John Rathbone, Matthew Rackham, David Nielsen, So Mang Lee, Wayne Hing, Sukhman Riar, Matthew Scott-Young

June 2023, Volume 32, Issue 6, pp 1911 - 1926 Review Article Read Full Article 10.1007/s00586-023-07567-x

First Online: 18 April 2023


The rate of elective lumbar fusion has continued to increase over the past two decades. However, there remains to be a consensus on the optimal fusion technique. This study aims to compare stand-alone anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) with posterior fusion techniques in patients with spondylolisthesis and degenerative disc disease through a systematic review and meta-analysis of the available literature.


A systematic review was performed by searching the Cochrane Register of Trials, MEDLINE, and EMBASE from inception to 2022. In the two-stage screening process, three reviewers independently reviewed titles and abstracts. The full-text reports of the remaining studies were then inspected for eligibility. Conflicts were resolved through consensus discussion. Two reviewers then extracted study data, assessed it for quality, and analysed it.


After the initial search and removal of duplicate records, 16,435 studies were screened. Twenty-one eligible studies (3686 patients) were ultimately included, which compared stand-alone ALIF with posterior approaches such as posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF), transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF), and posterolateral lumbar fusion (PLF). A meta-analysis showed surgical time and blood loss was significantly lower in ALIF than in TLIF/PLIF, but not in those who underwent PLF (p = 0.08). The length of hospital stay was significantly shorter in ALIF than in TLIF, but not in PLIF or PLF. Fusion rates were similar between the ALIF and posterior approaches. The Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) scores for back and leg pain were not significantly different between the ALIF and PLIF/TLIF groups. However, VAS back pain favoured ALIF over PLF at one year (n = 21, MD − 1.00, CI − 1.47, − 0.53), and at two years (2 studies, n = 67, MD − 1.39, CI − 1.67, − 1.11). The VAS leg pain scores (n = 46, MD 0.50, CI 0.12 to 0.88) at two years significantly favoured PLF. The Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) scores at one year were not significantly different between ALIF and the posterior approaches. At two years, ODI scores were also similar between the ALIF and the TLIF/PLIF. However, the ODI scores at two years (2 studies, n = 67, MD − 7.59, CI − 13.33, − 1.85) significantly favoured ALIF over PLF (I2 = 70%). The Japanese Orthopaedic Association Score (JOAS) for low back pain at one year (n = 21, MD − 0.50, CI − 0.78) and two years (two studies, n = 67, MD − 0.36, CI − 0.65, − 0.07) significantly favoured ALIF over PLF. No significant differences were found in leg pain at the 2-year follow-up. Adverse events displayed no significant differences between the ALIF and posterior approaches.


Stand-alone-ALIF demonstrated a shorter operative time and less blood loss than the PLIF/TLIF approach. Hospitalisation time is reduced with ALIF compared with TLIF. Patient-reported outcome measures were equivocal with PLIF or TLIF. VAS and JOAS, back pain, and ODI scores mainly favoured ALIF over PLF. Adverse events were equivocal between the ALIF and posterior fusion approaches.

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