HealthONE - February 25, 2019

What makes surgery minimally invasive? Suitable for a wide range of procedures, minimally invasive surgery is performed using one or more small incisions--compared to the large incisions associated with open surgeries.

"Minimally invasive techniques enable higher precision and less trauma than ever before," said Dr. Richard Kim, neurosurgeon with Colorado Brain & Spine Institute and affiliated neurosurgeon at North Suburban Medical Center. "Compared to open surgeries, they typically involve less soft tissue damage and blood loss, which leads to shorter recovery times."

What are the main types of spine surgery? Spinal procedures vary based on patient needs but can be categorized into three main types, including:

  • Discectomy - The surgical removal of abnormal disc material that presses on a nerve root or the spinal cord, otherwise known as a herniated disc
  • Spinal fusion - A surgical technique that joins two or more vertebrae
  • Laminectomy - A major operation that removes a portion of the vertebral bone that forms the roof of the spinal canal

What does the recovery process look like?

The recovery process varies between patients and by procedure, but most people who elect minimally invasive surgeries can expect a hospital stay of two to three days (compared with up to five days for open surgery). Patients who undergo minor procedures may even be able to return home the same day.

As with any surgical recovery, pain is to be expected and can be managed with prescribed and over-the-counter medications. Additionally, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy to help strengthen the muscles around the spine and speed recovery.

"Before you leave the hospital, your doctor will schedule follow-up appointments to check on your recovery," said Dr. Kim. "But don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns."

Call your doctor immediately if you experience:

  • Severe pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • Increased fluid leaking from an incision
  • Signs of infection like redness, tenderness or swelling around the incision
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Signs of a blood clot like a swollen calf, ankle or foot

What are the benefits of surgery?

Minimally invasive surgery benefits include:

  • Substantially decreased need for blood transfusions because of the small amount of blood loss
  • Smaller incisions that are roughly two centimeters, rather than several inches
  • Less post-operative pain than with a more involved, open procedure
  • Shorter hospital stays, which may reduce the risk of hospital-acquired complications

"There are virtually no drawbacks to minimally invasive techniques that are chosen for the appropriate situations," said Dr. Kim.

What are the risks?

As with any surgery, there is always a risk of complication, including:

  • Reactions to anesthesia
  • Blood loss
  • Infection
  • Nerve damage
  • Blood clots
  • Persistent pain

"Taking a few important steps prior to surgery can help reduce your risks, including maintaining a healthy weight, getting diabetes under control and quitting smoking," said Dr. Kim.

Do I need surgery for my chronic back pain?

Most back-related pain will go away on its own or can be managed with nonsurgical measures like medication, heat or physical therapy. If these interventions fail, and pain persists, it's a good idea to chat with your doctor about next steps. Not all procedures can be performed with less invasive techniques. Click here for more information on whether one of these pain-relieving procedures may be right for you.