Finding the best spine surgeon that is right for you can be a confusing process. You may have friends, family, and coworkers flooding you with recommendations. You may see advertising touting the merits of one practice over another. How do you decide what the best choice is for you? Ultimately, to sort through all the options, it is important to use a set of objective measures to rank those options and make your decision based on that ranking.
Whether you choose to seek treatment at the BioSpine Institute or somewhere else, here are the key factors that you should pay particular attention to as you are evaluating your options: the surgeon’s experience; whether their surgical approach is minimally invasive or traditional; the size of incision; the length of time you will be under anesthesia; and how long it will take to recover are vital and important.
1. Find an Experienced Spine Surgeon
When trying to determine who is the best spine surgeon, arguably the number one factor would be the surgeon’s experience. When considering the experience of a back doctor there are several questions you should ask.
Are they licensed and board-certified?
A board-certified surgeon has met the minimum competency requirements of a board or medical association of which they are a member, such as The American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery or the American Osteopathic Board of Orthopedic Surgery. All of our surgeons are board-certified.
You can verify whether or not a doctor is licensed and board-certified by visiting the board of medicine for your state. For example, on the Florida Board of Medicine’s website, click on the Lookup tab to verify a license. The board of medicine provides a detailed profile of a practitioner’s formal education and training as well as any professional and postgraduate training, such as residency and fellowships.
Are they fellowship-trained?
Fellowship training gives doctors an opportunity to gain valuable experience beyond the requirements of medical school and a residency. A back surgeon who is fellowship-trained has demonstrated skills in a subspecialty, such as orthopedic surgery. A fellowship allows a new surgeon to work with nationally recognized experts in the medical field. All surgeons at the BioSpine Institute have participated in year-long fellowships to hone their surgical skills. These enhanced surgical skills are very beneficial for surgical outcomes.
How many patients have they treated?
Find a back doctor who has seen every possible spine condition. Ask your potential surgeon how many patients they have treated and how many spine procedures they have performed. These numbers can illustrate how much experience a surgeon has. If they have only treated a few hundred people for neck and back pain, they have probably only seen every possible scenario a handful of times.
Our surgeons have treated more than 40,000 patients and performed more than 20,000 minimally invasive spine procedures.
2. The Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery Approach
When determining who to choose as the best spine surgeon, another hugely important factor is understanding the doctor’s surgical approach. The minimally invasive surgical approach was introduced more than 15 years ago, yet, many surgeons are still operating in the dark ages of spine surgery. A traditional open-back surgeon performs the surgery through a large 4×6-inch incision while the minimally invasive spine surgeon performs the same surgery through a ¾-inch incision.
During a minimally invasive spine procedure, our surgeons will make a ¾-inch incision, cutting through the layers of skin, fat, and connective tissue and stopping short of slicing through the muscle. This is the most important part – we don’t cut the muscle. Instead, our surgeons gently spread the muscle fibers apart just enough to insert a series of tubes called dilators – one around the other – to form a tunnel to access the spine. When the surgery is finished the tube is removed and the muscle fibers return to normal and undamaged. The muscles aren’t so lucky with some minimally invasive spine surgeons and, especially, traditional open back procedures where they cut the muscle to access the spine. When the muscles are cut like this it is like a giant stab wound. It can take the muscle longer to recover and scar tissue may form.
What are some key takeaways?
- Small incision + spreading muscle fibers instead of cutting them = shorter time to recover, less pain, and minimal scarring.
- Larger incision + cutting through the muscle fibers = longer time to recover, more pain and scarring.
If the minimally invasive surgical approach is so much better, then why don’t all spine surgeons use it? Well, the simple answer is time and money. It can take hundreds of hours of training to master the minimally invasive surgical approach. It is an investment many traditional spine surgeons are unwilling to take even though it would improve patient outcomes.
When comparing and contrasting the surgical outcomes of traditional spine surgery vs. minimally invasive spine surgery, you begin to discover which surgical approach is better for a patient’s recovery.
3. Surgical Outcomes
You can ensure a positive surgical outcome by finding a board-certified and fellowship-trained minimally invasive spine surgeon who is nationally recognized for back surgery outcomes. Consumer Report’s 2013 “Back Surgery Rating” rated the BioSpine Institute as one of the top 5 in the nation for back surgery results. The BioSpine Institute surgeons have also been featured in Newsweek Magazine as “Leaders in Spine Surgery.”
4. Back Surgery in less than an hour
Traditional spine surgery can take several hours to complete Our experienced surgeons can complete surgery in 30 to 50 minutes for most procedures. It can also take a less experienced surgeon 2 ½ to 6 ½ hours to finish the same procedure.
5. Quick Recovery Time
When comparing the recovery times for minimally invasive surgery with traditional surgery there are some real differences.
Traditional spine surgery results in a big 4×6-inch incision, muscle damage, and a longer recovery period. Minimally invasive spine surgery results in a tiny ¾-inch incision, no muscle damage, and a quicker recovery time. Muscle simply takes longer to heal than skin and connective tissue.
It is difficult, however, to predict exactly how long it will take for a minimally invasive spine surgery patient to fully recover. Some patients return back to work in as little as three days. However, it is important to keep in mind that every patient is different. Some patients have more health issues, heal slower, and have a different tolerance to pain than others. Beware of any surgeon who promises a full recovery within a specific time frame.
Schedule your appointment today with the BioSpine Institute to discuss your back pain and develop a treatment plan to put you back on the road to recovery. Even if you do not choose us as your spine surgeons, just remember these five factors when choosing one: experience, surgical approach, surgical outcomes, length of surgery, and recovery time.