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What is Minimally Invasive Scoliosis Surgery?

By C. Stoliecki
Updated May 17, 2024
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Minimally invasive scoliosis surgery is spinal surgery aimed at correcting an abnormal curvature in the spine. During this procedure, surgeon’s work on the spine through a series of small incisions. This technique is far less intrusive and traumatic for the patient than traditional scoliosis surgery, which requires open back surgery and the separating of back muscles. The smaller incisions that are used in minimally invasive scoliosis surgery require less healing time, do not require doctors to separate back muscles and generally result in less noticeable scarring. Despite these obvious benefits, this type of surgery cannot be used to treat all cases of scoliosis and it does generally take much longer to perform than traditional surgical methods.

Generally, during minimally invasive scoliosis surgery, doctors utilize new technologies that allow them to pinpoint the location of the spinal curvature. This allows them to forgo open back surgery and use a series of tiny incisions. In order to view the spine, they insert a narrow tube known as an endoscope, which is attached to a tiny camera, through one of the small incisions. Surgeons then correct the curvature of the spine by attaching large screws or metal rods to the spine to straighten it. The bones of the spine eventually become fused to maintain the new straighter position, but in most cases the rods and screws are left in the body to eliminate the possibility of a recurring curvature and the need for any future surgery.

Minimally invasive scoliosis surgery is not appropriate for everyone. Those who have had previous surgery or have two curves in their spine are not eligible for the surgery. Patients that qualify for this type of surgery can expect to be walking within a few days and are often able to resume their full activities within three to four months — much faster than those who must endure traditional scoliosis surgery.

The three pioneers of minimally invasive scoliosis surgery are Dr. Richard Fessler, Dr. John Liu and Dr Stephen Ondra who invented the procedure after years of research and trials. Their goal was to minimize the risks for deformity and the high likelihood of blood loss while also reducing the long and difficult recovery that patients of traditional scoliosis surgery were forced to endure. Since this pioneering work, there have been several others who have contributed technological advances that are beneficial to the procedure. For instance, some surgeons have developed the ability to enter the spine laterally through the side of the body using minimally invasive techniques.

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