What is Ultra-Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery?

Over the years minimally invasive spine surgery has become standard for most spine surgeries. That is because these surgical techniques are faster, safer and require less recovery time for the patient. However, “minimally-invasive” can refer to a wide range of techniques or procedures and now there is the option for ultra-minimally invasive spine surgery that has even smaller incisions. How do you know the differences between them?

  • Minimally invasive and microscopic spine surgery utilizes incisions that are an inch or less and the surgeon can guide instruments and a microscopic video camera through these small incisions. The surgeon combines minimally invasive techniques with surgical microscopes to repair or treat the injured area of the back or neck.
  • Endoscopic spine surgery (ESS) is a newer technique that is sometimes referred to as an ultra-minimally invasive surgical technique. With this type of surgery, the incision is only about ¼ of an inch – just large enough to insert an endoscope which is the size of a straw. Through the endoscope, the surgeon can pass micro-instruments and cameras that allow the surgeon to see with detail the spinal nerves, discs, and structures. They can visualize and target individual spinal nerves. One of the benefits of endoscopic spine surgery is that because the incisions are so small, it helps the surgeon to further reduce the trauma to surrounding muscles or soft tissues. The surgeon can operate with great accuracy, which can significantly improve patient outcomes and speed recovery times.

What Conditions Can be Treated with Endoscopic Spine Surgery?

Endoscopic or ultra-minimally invasive spine surgery can be used to treat many common causes of back and neck pain.  Surgeons can use this technique to treat degenerative changes in the spine, decompress pinched nerves, remove herniated discs, or eliminate bone spurs. They can target individual nerves and nerve roots to quickly eliminate the cause of pain. Some of the common conditions where a surgeon may recommend endoscopic spine surgery include:

  • Herniated or bulging discs
  • Arthritis or facet arthritis
  • Radiculopathy – nerve pain that radiates to the arm or the leg
  • Sciatica
  • Spinal stenosis

Recovering From Endoscopic Spine Surgery

Because the surgeon can address the problem without irritating a lot of the surrounding tissues, the outcomes are excellent. Endoscopic spine surgery helps to preserve the motion of the rest of the spine, by allowing for the most minimal repair and reducing or eliminating any changes to the soft tissues and the structure of the spine. Patients with chronic neck or back pain have much to look forward to when considering spine surgery today, as new, minimally invasive approaches offer many benefits:

  • Reduced trauma to the muscles and soft tissues which translates to quicker healing
  • Smaller skin incisions – sometimes as small as few millimeters offers a better cosmetic result
  • Less blood loss during surgery
  • Reduced risk of infection
  • Spinal fusion alternative for select patients
  • Faster recovery from surgery and less rehabilitation required
  • Less pain and reduced reliance on pain medications after surgery

Ultra-minimally invasive spine surgery is a same day surgery and typically there is no overnight stay required. Recovery can be different for every individual; however, patients are typically not in a lot of pain when they wake up. For those patients who suffered from chronic back or neck pain they experience immediate relief. Most individuals are recovered by the time of their post-op visit two weeks later.  Statistics show that minimally invasive spine surgery has high patient satisfaction and a success rate of around 90 percent. The great news – most people don’t need another spine surgery in their life.

Dr. Jason Alder is a spine surgeon at OrthoTexas. He was fellowship-trained in minimally invasive spine surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. It is always his goal to use the least invasive techniques available today so that the spine will be as normal as possible, and the patient will experience the quickest recovery.