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Transforaminal Lumbar Interbody Fusion


  • Transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion, also called TLIF, is surgery to correct problems with your spine (backbone). The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae that are like blocks placed on top of each other. Usually, the spine is straight when seen from the back and like a letter 'S' from the side. The spine protects the spinal cord, and nerves coming to and from the spinal cord. In between the vertebrae are discs, which are soft cushions. These help your vertebrae move softly over each other when you twist or bend your body. TLIF may be done when you have crooked, loose, or broken vertebrae in the lumbar spine (lower back). It may also be done when the discs rupture (burst), causing vertebrae to grind into each other. You may have leg and low back pains, or numbness and weakness in your legs.
  • During surgery, your caregiver will make an incision (cut) on your back over the affected area. A special device is used to cut bone around the foramen (opening where the nerve passes) of the vertebrae. Enlarging the foramen takes pressure off the nerve root and gives your caregiver more room to do the TLIF. Two or more vertebrae are joined together using bone grafts or implants, and special tools such as screws and rods. Grafts are bones taken from another part of your body. The special tools are used to hold the repaired bone in place and to stop the affected vertebrae from slipping further. With surgery, pain in your back may be treated, and you may resume your usual activities.


Take your medicine as directed:

Call your primary healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why you take them. Take the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency. Throw away old medicine lists.

  • Antibiotics: This medicine is given to fight or prevent an infection caused by bacteria. Always take your antibiotics exactly as ordered by your primary healthcare provider. Do not stop taking your medicine unless directed by your primary healthcare provider. Never save antibiotics or take leftover antibiotics that were given to you for another illness.
  • Pain medicine: You may need medicine to take away or decrease pain.
    • Learn how to take your medicine. Ask what medicine and how much you should take. Be sure you know how, when, and how often to take it.
    • Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine. Tell caregivers if your pain does not decrease.
    • Pain medicine can make you dizzy or sleepy. Prevent falls by calling someone when you get out of bed or if you need help.

Ask for information about where and when to go for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services, ask for more information.

Ask your caregiver when you need to return to have your wound checked and the stitches removed.


  • Avoid doing hard activities, such as heavy lifting, pulling, and pushing. You may also need to limit your body movements, especially bending your back.
  • Ask your caregiver if and when you can play hard or contact sports.
  • Do not let your stitches get wet unless your caregiver says it is OK. Ask your caregiver when you will be allowed to bathe, shower, or swim.

Bathing with stitches:

Follow your primary healthcare provider's instructions on when you can bathe. Gently wash the part of your body that has the stitches. Do not rub on the stitches to dry your skin. Pat the area gently with a towel. When the area is dry, put on a clean, new bandage as directed.

Physical therapy:

You may need to see a physical therapist to teach you special exercises. These exercises help improve movement and decrease pain. Physical therapy can also help improve strength and decrease your risk for loss of function.

  • A lower back brace may be fitted to you to help the spine heal better. Ask your physical therapist on how to care for your brace.
  • Your physical therapist may teach you special exercises to do at home. These may be done alone or with the help of a family member. Do only the exercises advised by your caregiver and do them only as often as your caregiver suggests. Do not do more than the range of motion exercises advised by your caregiver.
  • You may be asked to do more as you get stronger and as the pain decreases. Rotation exercises, exercises in the standing position, stretching, and resistance exercises may be added to your program over time.


  • You have a fever.
  • You have chills, a cough, or feel weak and achy.
  • Your skin is itchy, swollen, or has a rash.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition, surgery, or medicine.


  • You have trouble breathing or chest pain all of a sudden.
  • You have trouble having a bowel movement or passing urine.
  • Your bandage becomes soaked with blood.
  • You feel some parts of your body are numb, tingly, cool to touch, or look blue or pale.
  • You fell and injured your back.
  • Your incisions are swollen, red, have pus coming from them, or they have come apart.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.