Laser spine treatment is a form of surgery using minimallyinvasive techniques to relieve the symptoms of neuralcompression in the neck or back. It is considered anoutpatient procedure, which means overnighthospitalization is not required, and it typically utilizesendoscopic technology. An endoscope, which is a smallcamera that can be used to look inside of a hollow bodycavity or organ, was used primarily for diagnosticpurposes throughout the 1970s and 1980s. However,advances in medical technology over the past twodecades have made it possible for surgeons to performsurgery on the spine and other parts of the body usingthis innovative equipment.
Degeneration in the SpineThere are a variety of conditions that can be addressed with laserspine treatment, the majority of which are degenerative conditionsthat cause chronic pain due to deteriorating spinal joints, or due tocompression of a spinal nerve root or the spinal cord. While surgerywill not “cure” or stop spinal degeneration, it can relieve symptoms ofpain, tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness in the neck, back,and/or extremities. Nerve compression in the cervical spine (neck)tends to cause symptoms to spread through the neck, upper back,shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers. Nerve compression in the lowerback commonly gives rise to pain, tingling, and weakness in thebuttocks, hips, legs, feet, and toes. It is less common for degenerativeconditions to occur in the thoracic spine, as this segment of the backhas the added support and stability of the attached rib cage.
Conditions Treated by Laser SurgeryDegenerative spine conditions commonly treated byendoscopic surgery include: • Herniated discs • Bulging discs • Ligament hypertrophy • Bone spurs • Grades I and II spondylolisthesis • Spinal stenosis • Sciatica • Spinal osteoarthritis
Benefits of Laser Spine TreatmentLaser spine treatment offers a variety of benefits over the common approaches to spinesurgery in decades past. For many years, surgery on the neck and back involved an openspine approach with a large incision in the neck, throat, back, or abdomen, and also usuallyincluded spinal fusion.An endoscopic procedure requires only a small incision (usually less than one inch in length)and does not necessitate dissection of muscles or other soft tissues surrounding the spine.In addition, during laser spine surgery the surgeon generally only removes the portion ofbone or disc material that is directly causing neural compression. Recovery time forendoscopic spine procedures averages two to four weeks.During an open spine procedure, at least one large incision must be made, muscles aredissected, and large portions of spinal anatomy are removed. Because this causes the spineto be relatively unstable, a bone graft and hardware are often used to fuse two or morevertebra together. Risks of nerve damage, infection, excessive bleeding, and failed backsurgery syndrome (FBSS) are much higher with open spine surgery, and recovery time canlast up to a year, making laser spine treatment a welcome alternative for many patients.
Limitations of Laser Spine TreatmentNot all patients will be candidates for laser spine treatment. Certainspine conditions that involve severe structural problems or spinalinstability can usually not be treated with endoscopic techniques.Scoliosis, Grade III or IV spondylolisthesis, kyphosis, lordosis, and somespine conditions caused by previous surgeries generally do notrespond to endoscopic surgery.As with any type of surgery, laser spine treatment should beconsidered carefully by any patient who is weighing the pros and consof surgical procedures. Although minimally invasive, endoscopicsurgery still carries risks that should not be overlooked. Be sure to geta second, or even third, opinion regarding spine surgery and the typeof procedure that offers you the best chance for pain relief.
When to Consider Laser Spine TreatmentMost importantly, think of laser spine surgery only as a last-resort treatment option after awide variety of conservative treatmentoptions have been tried. Commonnon-surgical approaches to pain reliefinclude physical therapy, behaviormodification, hot/cold compresses, gentlestretching, low-impact exercise, corticosteroid injections,transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, non-steroidalanti-inflammatory drugs, and narcotic pain medications,among others.