Minimally-invasive techniques in spinal surgery were developed over the past several years to reduce the many of the complications and bad outcomes of traditional open spinal surgery. Open spinal surgery typically relies on long incisions in the middle of the back. After the incision is made the surgeon then must “strip” or cut the muscles off of the spine to expose the bones of the spinal column (see image 1).
(Image 1: long, open incision in spinal surgery)
The muscles are then held out of the way, often for hours at a time with big, sharp metal retractors. Several studies have shown real, long-lasting damage to the muscles of the spine caused by these large retractors. Minimally-invasive techniques in spinal surgery, on the other hand, use very small incisions (see image 2 and 3), tubes not retractors, and innovative approaches (be sure to check back later for a blog entry on lateral spinal surgery) to spare the normal structures of the spine.
(Image 2: Skin marking for a minimally-invasive incision to remove a herniated disc in the lumbar spine. The patient had the exact same surgery a few years ago for the same problem via an open surgery; notice how much longer the scar is.)
(Image 3: On the left you see a patient who had a lumbar fusion via an open approach. On the right is a patient who had the SAME surgery using minimally-invasive techniques.)
When compared to open spinal surgery, minimally-invasive spinal surgery results in:
- decreased pain levels
- decreased risk of infection
- less blood loss and need for transfusions
- shorter hospital stays
- faster return to work and LIFE
To sum it up: minimally-invasive spinal surgery, in my opinion, is better and safer for the patient.