Shorter Recovery with Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery
Most instances of back and neck pain are due to some type of strain. However, there are times when initial treatments that typically involve over-the-counter pain medications, rest, and applying heat and ice to the affected area aren’t effective. Seeing an orthopedic specialist doesn’t automatically mean you’ll need an operation. But if surgery is necessary, it’s often described as a “minimally invasive.” But what does this actually mean?
What Makes Spine Surgery ‘Minimally Invasive’
During traditional open surgery, long incisions are often necessary to fully access the affected area. And muscles and other soft tissues usually have to be pulled back, or retracted. With minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS), a series of smaller incisions are made to reach the affected area of the spine. Special instruments are used through tubes (tubular retractors) that create a tunnel. The removal of disc material or the insertion of screws and other hardware is done through the tubes. The surgeon can view the surgical site on a monitor.
What Are Commonly Performed Types of MISS?
Performed to remove part or all of a damaged disc, lumbar discectomies are one of the most common types of minimally invasive spine surgery performed. A less invasive microdiscectomy is done with incisions that are about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Percutaneous and endoscopic discectomies are done with guide wires and tubes to reduce trauma to nearby tissues. Minimally invasive thoracic and lumbar fusions are performed to stabilize areas in the lower or mid-back. With a minimally invasive transforaminal interbody lumbar fusion (TLIF), the front and back parts of the spine can be accessed during a single procedure. During a lateral lumbar interbody fusion (LLIF), soft tissues are spared by accessing the spine from the side of the body. An increased number of conditions are able to treated with MISS, including:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Lumbar spinal stenosis
- Disc herniation
- Vertebral compression fractures
Possible Benefits for Patients
The advanced techniques used during minimally invasive spine surgery reduce the risk to nearby nerves and muscles. In many instances, soft tissues that would otherwise have to be cut or moved aside can remain untouched. By accessing only the affected area directly, patients are also more likely to spend less time in the operating room. Additional benefits associated with MISS include:
- Less pain around incisions
- Shorter hospital stays
- Fewer complications
- Shorter recovery periods
- Potentially better outcomes
Not all spine problems can be corrected with minimally invasive techniques. Traditional surgery is sometimes the better option, especially if the affected area of the spine is difficult to access or if multiple levels will need to be treated. Other times, getting a more accurate diagnosis of the source of symptoms may improve results seen with non-surgical options like physical therapy to the point where surgery can be delayed or avoided altogether.