Laser spine surgery is a minimally invasive procedureaimed at relieving the symptoms associated with acompressed or irritated nerve structure in the spine. Thistype of surgery is performed endoscopically, which meansthe surgeon uses an endoscope, or a small camera, to seethe spinal column. This precludes the need for a largeincision and soft tissue dissection, making this outpatientprocedure a safer and more effective surgical alternativefor many patients facing open spine surgery for thetreatment of symptoms related to degenerative spineconditions like herniated discs, bulging discs, bone spurs,spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis.
Traditional Spine SurgeryTraditionally, a highly invasive open spinesurgery was the only option for patientswho suffered from spinal nerve rootcompression due to one of the previouslymentioned conditions. These surgeriesgenerally involve: • Hospitalization • One or more large incisions • Dissection of muscles, tendons, and ligaments • Excision of a large portion of the spinal anatomy • Spine fusion using bone grafts and hardware • A long and painful rehabilitation
How Laser Spine Surgery is DifferentOver the last several decades, advances in medical technologyhave made it possible for surgeons to address spinaldegeneration with a much less invasive approach. Laser spinesurgery involves a small incision (typically less than one inch inlength) through which a series of telescoping tubes is inserted.Soft tissues like muscles, ligaments, and tendons are pushedaside, not cut, to make room for the tubes. An endoscope, laser,and other small surgical tools are then funneled through thetubes to the site of degeneration and nerve compression withinthe spinal canal. The endoscope allows the surgeon to see theinterior of the spine on a video monitor, so the procedure can beperformed without massive trauma to the surrounding tissues.
About Spinal FusionAnother way that laser spine surgery is different from open spine surgery isthat this type of endoscopic procedure does not always require spinal fusion.(Although, if spinal fusion is needed, fusion surgery can be performedthrough an endoscope as well.)During open spine surgery, a significant portion of bone or intervertebral discmaterial is removed in order to relieve neural compression. However, this canlead to spinal instability, which is why fusion is often performed. Fusioninvolves the total removal of an intervertebral disc, and in its place a bonegraft is implanted. The bone graft is secured with rods and screws tosurrounding vertebrae to facilitate the growth of new bone. Over time, a solidsegment of bone will form between two vertebrae. The goal is topermanently immobilize that segment of the spinal column so that painfulmovement is limited.
The Drawbacks of Spinal Fusion & Open Spine SurgeryThe highly invasive nature of open spine surgeryincreases the risk of infection, nerve damage, excessiveblood loss, scarring, and failed back surgery syndrome(FBSS). There is also a chance of complications should thepatient’s body reject the bone graft or implantedhardware. The large incisions involved with open spinesurgery, as well as the permanent immobility at the fusedsegment of the spine, also means a longer and morearduous rehabilitation period as the patient slowly healsand adapts to reduced mobility.
The Benefits of Laser Spine SurgeryLaser spine surgery offers many patients a safe and effectivealternative to the risks of open spine surgery. Some patients whoundergo an endoscopic procedure report feeling relief immediatelyafter the surgery, and many are back on their feet just a few hoursafter surgery. However, not all patients will be candidates for aminimally invasive procedure and it is important to get two or threeopinions from different spine surgeons before making a decision aboutundergoing any type of surgery. Keep in mind that the minimallyinvasive nature of endoscopic surgery does not mean that it should betaken less seriously than open spine surgery. Thorough research intothe procedure, the surgeon who performs it, and whether it isappropriate for your condition is necessary before making a decision.