Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery
Minimally invasive spinal fusion is similar to traditional spinal fusion, but it uses smaller incisions and causes less damage to the surrounding tissues during surgery.
Minimally invasive fusion uses four small incisions, approximately ½ inch in length. A fiber optic viewing camera is used, similar to other minimally invasive procedures including laparoscopic gallbladder or appendix removal.
Fusion with screws and rods can be performed through the back using several 1-2 inch incisions. In these cases a series of increasingly larger dilators are inserted through the incisions to help spread the muscles apart. Once the muscles have been moved away, the screws and rods can be placed through the dilator tubes. In some cases an operating microscope is used to help the surgeon see more clearly.
One of the most recent advances in minimally invasive spinal fusion is the ability to perform fusion surgery through the patient's side. There are several techniques that allow the surgeon to make a small incision, approximately 2 inches in the patient's side, directly over the planned fusion site. The muscles are then carefully moved aside, and a series of increasing larger dilators are inserted down to the lumbar spine. Specialized instruments can then be used through the dilator tube to remove the intervertebral disc and place a bone graft or metal or plastic spacer in its place. This technique is typically combined with a procedure from the back to place rods and screws for additional support.
The major advantage of all of these minimally invasive techniques is that there is less damage caused to the surrounding tissues. Unfortunately, in traditional spinal surgery it is necessary to cut through muscles and move them out of the way in order to reach the spine. This can cause a large amount of pain following surgery, and it can lengthen the recovery time. Instead of cutting and moving muscles, the minimally invasive techniques can more gently spread through the muscles to allow access to the spine. This is much less painful for the patient, and it does not require as long of a recovery period for the muscle to heal.
Another benefit of less muscle damage is less blood loss and thus a reduced need for blood transfusions using the minimally invasive techniques. There is often less need for narcotic pain medications following this form of surgery, and a shorter hospital stay.