December 16, 2016
Minimally Invasive is a very big “buzz” word right now in the spine surgery community. Many patients are coming in to their surgeon’s office hoping to have an “easier” surgery. But what does minimally invasive really mean, especially when put into perspective with the perception of spine surgery being a pretty “invasive” surgery?
When talking about a minimally invasive surgery, you must consider three factors: scar sizes, muscle dilation vs. stripping, and recovery time. These three factors separate a traditional surgery from a minimally invasive one.
Starting with scar size, the difference between a minimally invasive surgery and a traditional surgery is somewhat obvious. One typically leaves behind a large, long scar, while the other leaves behind a scar usually about the length of an inch to an inch and a half. But scar size is not a major signifier in whether or not a surgery is minimally invasive or not. The reason being that depending on how many levels of your spine are being operated on will determine how long you scar is.
The biggest difference between minimally invasive surgeries and traditional surgeries is that of muscle dilation versus muscle stripping. Muscle dilation is achieved by using a series of sequential dilators to separate the fibers of the muscles in your back, making a small tunnel, giving the surgeon a view of your spine through a very small incision. By using these tubes or channel along with a microscope or endoscope the surgeon can access the part of your spine where the problem is, without having to make a long incision along those spinal levels. When performing a traditional surgery, the physician makes an incision along all of the levels of your spine where the problem lies and “strips” the muscle off of the spine. This muscle stripping, rather than dilation can often play a role in how quickly a patient recovers.
The third factor, when looking at a minimally invasive surgery, is recovery time. This factor lies in tandem with the concept of muscle dilation. Often, a patient’s recovery time after spine surgery is mainly based on the amount of “damage” that is done to surrounding “soft tissues” and anatomical structures. In layman’s terms, depending on how much muscle was stripped off the spine, if the surgeon had to move around any organs in order to access the spine, and how many ligaments were cut will affect the speed of recovery and the amount of pain felt after surgery. Obviously, the less manipulation and changes to soft tissue and anatomical structures that occurs during surgery, the less post-operative pain a patient will feel and the faster the recovery will be.
Minimally invasive options, though attractive, are not for everyone. If your physician recommends a more traditional open approach, it does not mean that your recovery time is going to be extremely long or painful. What is important, is to educate yourself on all of the surgical options available to you, discuss these options with your physician, and then rely on your physician to choose the best option for you that he or she is comfortable with performing.
It is important that you discuss the potential risks, complications, and benefits of the Minimal Access Spinal Technologies with your doctor prior to receiving treatment, and that you rely on your physician’s judgment. Only your doctor can determine whether you are a suitable candidate for this treatment.
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