Conditions Treated with Minimally Invasive Laser Spine Surgery
While it seems counter-intuitive, the term laser spine surgery hasbegun to include a great many minimally invasive procedures thatdo not necessarily involve the use of an actual laser. This is,perhaps, because so many surgical centers that provide minimallyinvasive, outpatient treatment for symptoms related todegenerative spine conditions market themselves using thefuturistic term “laser.” And, in fact, many of the procedures doentail the use of a laser as a heat source in order to strategicallytarget the smallest amount of spinal anatomy for removal (in somecases, vaporization).What many people wonder, though, is what conditions are actuallytreated by centers that specialize in laser spine surgery. Whatfollows is a detailed accounting of the degenerative spineconditions and resulting anatomical abnormalities that are treatedby those centers.
Degenerative Spine ConditionsAge-related deterioration of the spinal anatomy affects almosteveryone. Of course, not everyone experiences neck or back painbecause of it, and even fewer actually require laser spine surgery.Those who do tend to suffer from one of two degenerative spineconditions: spinal osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease.Spinal osteoarthritis, sometimes simply called spinal arthritis, is thedeterioration of the cartilage lining the spinal joints. Degenerativedisc disease (DDD) is the gradual deterioration of the sponge-likeintervertebral discs, which serve as shock absorbers between thestacked vertebrae.
Bulging DiscOne potential result of DDD is a bulging disc.This anatomical abnormality arises when thedisc’s layered, fibrous outer wall is forced out ofits normal boundary because it has become tooweak to hold the internal, gel-like nucleus ofthe disc, which is under constant pressure.A bulging disc typically remains asymptomaticunless the outer wall begins to make contactwith the spinal cord or nerve root. In fact, thesame can be said of most of these age-relatedspine conditions. Contact with a nerve root cangive rise to neck or back pain, traveling pain,and tingling, numbness, or muscle weakness inthe extremities.
Herniated DiscA herniated disc often occurs after a bulging disc. Discherniation happens when the gel-like nucleus material ofa disc leaks through a rupture, or tear, in the disc’s outerwall. The extruded disc material is often reabsorbed bythe body before it touches a nerve root or the spinal cord,causing severe symptoms in some cases. However, justthe presence of nucleus material near the tiny nerveendings in the disc’s outer wall can cause pain within thedisc itself, but this pain usually remains localized.
OsteophytesOsteophytes are also known as bone spurs. They can occur onany bone in the body, often where joints become unstable. Inthe spine, they occur as a result of spinal arthritis. Bone spursare smooth, excess growths of bone that are found along theedges of vertebrae and unstable spinal joints.While these bony growths don’t always produce symptoms,they often are revealed in the early stages by a distinctive“popping” or “cracking” noise known as crepitus. Anosteophyte can become particularly problematic if it begins tomake contact with a nerve root.
Early Stage SpondylolisthesisIn its early stages, symptomatic spondylolisthesis (vertebralslippage) might be treated with a minimally invasive,outpatient laser spine procedure. This typically applies forGrade I spondylolisthesis (25 percent slippage) only, and onlywhen the slipped vertebra is making contact with the spinalcord or a nerve root. As with other degenerative spineconditions, laser spine surgery addresses the pain and othersymptoms caused by spondylolisthesis, but does not cure thecondition itself (in other words, laser surgery would notreposition the slipped vertebrae back to its correctplacement).
What Is Not TreatedAs indicated previously, late-stage spondylolisthesis is not typically treated bycenters that specialize in laser spine surgery. In addition, not every patientsuffering from nerve compression symptoms is a candidate for minimallyinvasive procedures on the spine.Patients who do not enjoy sound overall health might not be considered goodcandidates for minimally invasive spine surgery. People who have undergonehighly invasive spinal fusion surgery in the past might also find that minimallyinvasive laser spine surgery is not available to them.There might also be other factors that preclude a patient from becoming acandidate. If you are considering spine surgery of any kind, be sure to discussall of your options with your doctor and seek multiple medical opinionsbefore consenting to any type of procedure.