Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

spine surgery
Spine surgery is often done minimally invasive.. Thierry Dosogne / Getty Images

Minimally Invasive Surgery:

Recent surgical advancements have focused on performing surgery through smaller incisions, with less disruption to surrounding soft-tissues. The idea behind minimally invasive surgery is to perform the same treatment without damage to normal surrounding tissues. The drawback of minimally invasive surgery is that sometimes the underlying problem may not be adequately addressed because of an inability to get to the problem.

Whenever a new minimally invasive procedure is introduced, there is almost always controversy as to whether or not the procedure is as good as traditional surgery.

Endoscopic Spine Surgery:

Endoscopic spine surgery uses specialized video equipment inserted through small incisions to see the structures of the spine. Similar to arthroscopic surgery of a joint, endoscopic surgery has advanced over the past decade from merely being able to look to the area of interest, to the ability to repair and reconstruct a variety of complex problems.

The benefit of endoscopic spine surgery is the potential to address problems through very small incisions. By not damaging the muscles around the spine, recovery can often be much faster than with a larger surgical exposure.

Microdiscectomy, Microlaminectomy and Microforamenotomy:

All of these micro-surgeries are variations of standard surgeries used to take pressure off of the nerves around the spinal cord.

Traditionally done through larger incisions, the micro procedures use smaller incisions and specialized surgical instruments to accomplish the same goals of traditional surgery.

There is no rule on where the line between traditional surgery and micro surgery is drawn. To some doctors this means a smaller incision, to others it means the use of special surgical instruments.

Many variations of a procedure could be considered micro surgery.

Laser Spine Surgery:

Laser spine surgery is a technique that uses a laser to remove damaged tissues. Because a laser can be inserted through small incisions, it can be used to cut away damaged tissues (such as disc fragments) without having to make a large incision.

There is significant controversy about laser spine surgery as this technique has not been shown to have significant benefits, despite advertising that may make you think otherwise. Often marketed in magazines and the Internet, laser spine surgery has become the focus of some lawsuits for misleading patients about expected results from surgery.

Is It Better?:

Is minimally invasive surgery better? There are many ways to answer this question. The bottom line is that we simply do not know. There are theoretic advantages, and there are possible downsides. But there are very few studies that compare the possible risks with the potential benefits of minimally invasive surgery.

The bottom line I suggest is to find a surgeon who, above all, is interested in fixing your problem, not someone who is selling you on a smaller incision. If the same benefit can be achieved without damage to normal tissues, then minimally invasive surgery may be a good option.

Sources:

Mathews HH and Long BH "Minimally Invasive Techniques for the Treatment of Intervertebral Disk Herniation" J. Am. Acad. Orthop. Surg., March/April 2002; 10: 80 - 85.

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