Back surgery. Two words that most patients don’t want to hear their doctors say. But thanks to advances in minimally invasive techniques, many procedures may not be as traumatic as some assume.
“A lot of people who think about back or spine surgery still think of it as major surgery associated with a somewhat long and painful recovery,” said Dr. Betsy Grunch, a neurosurgeon at The Longstreet Clinic, P.C. “And while it is a delicate surgery any time you’re dealing with the spine, there are newer, minimally invasive options that can make the surgery much less traumatic, less painful and the recovery much quicker for many patients.”
According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, the goal of minimally invasive spine surgery is to stabilize the vertebral bones and spinal joints or relieve pressure on spinal nerves typically caused by bulging discs, degenerative disc disease, bone spurs, herniated discs, scoliosis or spinal tumors.
Surgical treatment may be recommended to relieve pain, numbness or other symptoms caused by back or neck problems.
Minimally invasive spine surgery includes the following benefits:
- Smaller incision
- Less muscle & tissue damage
- Faster surgery
- Faster recovery time & less rehabilitation
- Less blood loss
- Reduced pain & need for pain meds
“Many of these procedures are even performed on an outpatient basis, which means patients can go home the same day of surgery,” Dr. Grunch said.
In order to reach the spinal nerves, vertebrae and discs, muscle and tissue must be moved.
Advertisements sometimes tout the use of lasers during minimally invasive spine surgeries.
According to the AANS, lasers are rarely used in these surgeries despite popular belief. Instead, many of these procedures involve a tubular retractor which, after being passed through a small incision, slowly dilates soft tissues instead of cutting through the muscles.
“This helps minimize the trauma the muscles and tissues during surgery, and is what helps facilitate a faster, less painful recovery,” Dr. Grunch said.
Some procedures that may be available using a minimally invasive approach include:
- Minimally invasive lumbar discectomy
- Minimally invasive foraminotomy for spinal stenosis
- Minimally invasive laminectomy for spinal stenosis
- Minimally invasive posterior lumbar interbody fusion
- Minimally invasive transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion
- Minimally invasive direct lateral interbody fusion
In the traditional, open approach, a larger incision is made in order to retract the muscle and reach the spine. While this approach is often successful, it involves more pain and blood loss and a longer recovery.
Your physician will let you know if minimally invasive spine surgery is the appropriate treatment option for you. He or she will go over the risks and benefits of each procedure so you can decide what option is right for you. In some cases, minimally invasive surgery may not be as safe or effective as traditional open surgery, so always consult your doctor about your options.