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What is Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery?

By Adam Hill
Updated May 16, 2024
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For some spinal disorders or conditions, surgical correction is the only option for complete recovery. At one time, surgery on the spine meant a lengthy hospital stay and a long recovery period, in addition to large scars. Minimally invasive spine surgery, on the other hand, makes use of more modern techniques which translate to a much shorter recovery, and small scars that gradually fade. This type of surgery is sometimes called keyhole surgery, because surgical instruments, as well as a light and camera to guide them, are inserted through a few minor incisions, making the surgery more efficient, and less invasive.

Minimally invasive spine surgery begins with small incisions, most of which are less than one inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. The first device to be placed into one of these sites is called an endoscope. This is a tube which has a light and camera on the end, and is also hollow to allow surgical instruments to be guided to the operation site. The images captured by the camera are displayed on a screen in the operating room, so that the surgeon has a large picture of what is going on. After the surgery is completed, sutures are applied to close the incisions, and a surgical tape is also applied, which helps make postoperative scars less visible later on.

The fact that minimally invasive spine surgery carries a reduced risk of complications and lessens the need for a lengthy hospital stay, means that in some cases these surgeries can be performed on an outpatient basis. This presents significant advantages for both doctor and patient, in the form of safety and cost-effectiveness. The many advantages of minimally invasive spine surgery over traditional surgeries -- including lessened postoperative pain -- have contributed to the growing popularity of these procedures.

One of the most common conditions that can be treated with minimally invasive surgery is a herniated vertebral disc. Herniated discs occur when the inner part of the disc is pushed out through the outer part of it, causing pain and often pinching major nerves, which in turn causes further pain and numbness. This condition does not always need to be corrected with surgery, but when it does, recovery generally comes quickly. Some of the other conditions that are treated with this type of surgery include scoliosis and spinal stenosis, which results from a type of arthritis of the spine. Minimally invasive spine surgery is not used for all types of spinal surgery, nor is it suitable for all patients, and a thorough consultation with a physician is the best way to determine one's candidacy.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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