The XLIF procedure is what is termed a "minimally invasive" procedure. This means that instead of a traditional, larger single incision, the procedure is performed through one or more small incisions and an instrument known as a retractor is used to spread the tissues so that the surgeon can see the spine. This is made possible by the use of a dilator and retractor system, MaXcess®, developed by NuVasive®, Inc, in San Diego, CA. The system allows the surgeon to reach the spine via lateral access (from the side of the body).
Minimally invasive spine surgery technology allows surgeons to reach the spine through several smaller incisions (as opposed to a single large incision). Some surgeons believe minimally invasive surgery is advantageous because it may allow for less tissue trauma, less scarring, shorter hospital stays and less postoperative discomfort, thereby affording a decreased need for post-operative pain medication.
Like all minimally invasive spine surgery techniques, the XLIF procedure was designed to treat disorders of the spine with the least amount of tissue (muscle, ligament, blood vessels and abdominal organs) disruption possible, so that there is minimal tissue-related damage from the surgery and the recovery time is therefore reduced.
Other minimally invasive spine fusion techniques include minimally invasive TLIF procedures, mini laparatomy and transacral approach to L5-S1.
Many surgeons are also able to perform traditional fusion ("open fusion") using surgical techniques that have many of the characteristics of minimally invasive surgery, including using relatively small surgical incisions, minimal muscle or other soft tissue damage, shorter hospitals stays and minimal postoperative discomfort. For example, some traditional open fusion techniques can be done with a single 2-inch incision in the abdomen or lower back vs. two 1-inch incisions for a minimally invasive approach.