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Are you living with severe pain that just won’t leave your back? Having consulted with your doctor, you have decided to finally get spinal surgery. While traditional open spine procedures can help, there are no guarantees that they will provide relief, and there are plenty of other options.

If you are planning to get spinal surgery, you might want to consider minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS) as one of the options. Compared to traditional open spine surgery, MIS surgery has some note-worthy benefits.

Benefits of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

Since MISS uses smaller skin incisions to fix your spine, you get better cosmetic results. The small cuts are around a few millimetres, so they are barely noticeable. There is a reduced risk for blood loss, muscle damage, infection, and pain after the surgical operation.

Another advantage of MIS surgeries over traditional procedures is that the patient recovers faster. The incisions being small allow the body to heal at a faster rate. As a result, you rely less on pain medications while recovering from the surgery.

Since less invasive spine surgery is considered an outpatient procedure, local anaesthesia is used instead of general anaesthesia. There is no need for you to get knocked unconscious while the surgical doctor works on fixing your spine problem. MIS procedures can treat degenerative disc disease, disk herniation, disk pathology, disk bulge, lumbar spinal stenosis, spinal deformities (scoliosis), a pinched nerve (sciatica), neurogenic claudication, lumbar radiculopathy, and a variety of other spinal conditions.

Minimally Invasive Spine Procedures

MIS procedures involve gaining access to the spinal area by passing through muscle tissues. Once the tissues are out of the way, the doctor can work on the spinal nerves, vertebrae, and other spinal system parts requiring attention.

While it is quite known that lasers are used in less invasive spinal procedures, amplified light treatments are rarely used. In most MIS surgeries, small incisions are made to allow instruments and microscopic cameras to move through the cuts.

One technique to access the spinal area is through a tubular retractor. Instead of cutting the muscles, it attempts to dilate soft tissues by using tubes to nudge the muscles out of the way. This strategy clears a path for the surgeon to work on without exposing a huge part of the spinal area unnecessarily.

Sometimes, the surgeon uses a microscope or endoscope to perform the procedure with minimal access. Once the procedure is done, the tubular retractor is removed to allow the dilated tissues to come back together. There is a small chance that incisions might be made depending on what is needed for the surgery.

Sometimes, a procedure might require rods and screws to stabilize the spine when attempting spinal fusion. These instrumentations are inserted through small incisions without dissecting the muscle tissues. Using temporary extenders and navigation robots, they are safely placed more accurately.

Surgeries related to the lumbar spine access the affected area from the side of the body. Since there are fewer muscles from the side, the patient will experience less pain. This procedure uses a tubular retractor while the patient is on the bed in a sideways position.

If the procedure demands it, the spinal area is accessed through the chest near the lungs and heart. Again, small incisions allow cameras and instruments to perform the surgery. There is no need to open the chest or remove some ribs like how traditional spine procedure is usually done.

Recovery After Minimally Invasive Spinal Surgery

Patients who choose less invasive spine surgery recover faster than those with traditional open spine surgery. MISS patients can go back to their regular activities within six weeks. During this post-surgery period, patients are restricted from doing certain activities. The restrictions depend on your health, recovery procedures, and recommendations from your spine surgeon.

Why is it faster for patients to recover from minimally invasive spine surgery than traditional open spine surgery? First, incisions are less than half an inch compared to open surgery cuts that are usually 5-6 inches long. The smaller the cuts, the less time it requires for your body to heal.

Another reason why MISS recovery times are faster is that the muscles attached to the spine were not removed. In open spine surgeries, the muscles are moved out of the way to access the affected area. The muscles are reattached once the procedure is done. Because the muscles are subjected to a remove-reattach process, more healing time is required for open spine surgeries.

Lastly, a speedy recovery is possible with less invasive surgery because the post-surgery pain is greatly reduced. MISS patients experience less pain because the incisions are smaller. The muscles and surrounding soft tissues are not irritated because there was less intervention than in traditional open surgery. All the mentioned factors above also mean less time and medication are required for the patient to fully recover from the surgery.

While traditional open spine surgery can fix spine issues, you might also want to consider less invasive spine surgery. MIS surgery has some advantages over open spine surgery that are worth looking into. Talk to your favourite spine surgeon to address concerns before going through any type of procedure.

About the author, Dr. Mohamed M. Abdulhamid is a neurosurgeon and the Founding Director and CEO of Royal Spine Surgery in Phoenix, Arizona. He is certified in total cervical disc replacement, or artificial disc replacement, in minimally invasive Coflex® procedure, in minimally invasive discectomy and in intraoperative navigation and image-guided surgery. In addition to travelling for work, Dr. Abdulhamid enjoys travelling with his family.  He also enjoys photography and he uses his camera to capture the beautiful landscape surrounding him locally and while travelling