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What Is Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery?

Winston Fong, MD

What is Minimally Invasive Surgery?

Minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS) is exactly that—a minimally or less-invasive method to perform surgery to alleviate neck and back pain. The concept revolves around minimizing the amount of bone and soft tissue damage (eg muscle, ligament, skin) while performing a surgical procedure. The goal is to prevent unnecessary trauma and scar tissue. This may potentially result in shorter hospital stays, lower (less) blood loss, lower infection rates, and overall better outcomes.

MISS employs specialized tools to achieve the same goals as traditional open spine surgery. These techniques–including the use of tubular retractors, endoscopes, and percutaneous implants (equipment placed through smaller skin incisions) allow for smaller incisions. This translates into less pain and blood loss and may potentially lead to better long-term results.

MISS also uses novel technology like computer-assisted navigation systems which allow your surgeon to visualize your spine in real-time 3D, previously unavailable through traditional imaging methods. This allows for more accuracy and shorter surgical times. Think of computer navigation systems as “GPS” for the spine. They are tools which enable surgeons to track location, direction, and position of any surgical instrument and implant used around your spinal column, cord, and nerves.

Who is a candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery?

Anyone who is a candidate for traditional open spine surgery is a candidate for MISS. Remember that the goals of minimally invasive spine surgery, while minimizing bony and soft tissue damage, are the same as in open spine surgery: decompression of pinched nerves and/or spinal cord to decrease pain and improve function. Sometimes, stabilization of abnormally moving spinal joints is required via a fusion or a replacement.

While minimally invasive spine surgery has its advantages, surgery should typically be considered the last option and only after conservative treatments have been tried. If physical therapy, analgesics, injections, and/or activity modification have failed to alleviate pain, please consult your surgeon regarding the next possible step and to see if minimally invasive surgery is a good option for you.

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