What is minimally invasive spine surgery? Well, that’s the real question, isn’t it? After all, surgery, by its very nature, is invasive. In general, you should expect minimally invasive back surgery to require a smaller incision, and cause less damage to your body than traditional surgery.
However, unlike many terms and names of procedures that are heavily regulated, there is no objective standard for the term “minimally invasive.” What this means for patients is that there is a huge discrepancy –even in a field as precise as spinal surgery—in what can legally be called minimally invasive surgery. While some back surgeons may use a 4-inch incision—technically smaller than those used in traditional spinal surgery, and therefore “minimally invasive”—others can provide the same world-class surgery through an incision the size of a penny.
What’s the difference between minimally invasive spine surgery and traditional spine surgery?
The difference in your patient experience is, simply put, huge. Compared to a larger incision, even those touted as minimally invasive, a truly minimally invasive spine surgery using a smaller incision has many advantages:
- Less tissue damage. A larger incision has to cut through muscle and may damage nerves, while a smaller hole can be placed just right—causing much less damage to surrounding tissues.
- Less blood loss. A smaller incision, along with reducing tissue damage, also reduces the blood loss you can expect during surgery. This greatly lowers your chances of complications requiring a blood transfusion.
- Less pain. Because your body takes less damage, you experience less pain, meaning fewer medications.
- Greater accuracy. High-tech guidance systems help surgeons visualize and even magnify the surgery site.
- No hospital stay. You can be in and out the same day!
- Lower risk of infection. Larger incisions and hospital stays can both increase your risk for serious infection.
- Smaller scar. A tiny incision means a tiny and far-less-noticeable scar.
- Faster recovery time. You can expect to feel better and be able to return to your regular routine much more quickly.
The benefits of minimally invasive spine surgery are clear. But, what’s becoming even clearer is that patients cannot simply rely on the promise of “minimally invasive” and count on all spine surgeons—and surgery centers—to be the same.
This means that you, the patient, must do your homework when researching medical facilities and surgeons, and find out precisely what they mean when they advertise minimally invasive spine surgery. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find out how your surgeon defines “minimally invasive,” ask about the number and size of incisions, and ask to see pictures of patients’ scarring. The best surgeons have nothing to hide, and will gladly show off their handiwork.