For the millions of Americans suffering from chronic back or neck pain, a technique known as minimally invasive endoscopic spine surgery is becoming an increasingly popular option to achieve lasting relief without the long recovery associated with traditional “open” surgery, according to Kaixuan Liu, MD, PhD, founder and president of Atlantic Spine Center.
Using specialized video cameras and surgical instruments passed through small incisions to access the spine, the same minimally invasive surgical methods practiced for decades in other medical disciplines are now highly successful at treating common spinal conditions such as degenerative and herniated discs, lumbar spinal stenosis, bone spurs and many others life-altering problems.
“Back pain is so prevalent that national statistics indicate it affects 8 of 10 people at some point in their lives,” explains Dr. Liu, who is fellowship-trained in minimally invasive spine surgery. “It’s become clear that for many of these patients, minimally invasive endoscopic spine surgery offers them the best chance at resuming their previously active lifestyle. And the technique is more effective than ever, as the complexity and procedures available continue to rapidly evolve.”
What patients want to know
As minimally invasive endoscopic spine surgery continues to flourish, patients naturally want to know more about the technique and how it might help them. Here are the top questions Dr. Liu addresses about the procedure:
What’s involved with minimally invasive endoscopic spine surgery?
Endoscopic or “keyhole” surgery such as this relies on a thin, telescope-like instrument known as an endoscope. It’s inserted through tiny incisions in the patient’s body and attached to a small video camera that projects an internal view of the patient onto TV screens in the operating room. The surgeon passes small surgical instruments through the incisions – usually no more than a half-inch long – and closes them later with sutures. The length of operation depends on the spinal condition being corrected.
What are the advantages of the technique?
There are many advantages over open surgery. A few small scars are needed for minimally invasive surgery rather than one long scar, which means less blood loss during surgery and less pain afterward. Unlike some doctors, at Atlantic Spine Center we perform true minimally invasive spine surgery, going between muscles with no need for cutting. Additionally, there’s a reduced risk of infection and a shorter hospital stay – typically a few days instead of a week, which means a quicker return to prior activities.
Is it safe? What are the risks?
Every surgery carries risks, and the technically challenging nature of minimally invasive endoscopic spine surgery can occasionally require longer operating times. However, the endoscopic approach also drops the risk of infection and gets patients back on their feet more quickly, lowering the risk of dangerous postoperative blood clots in the legs known as deep vein thrombosis.
When should I consider this procedure?
Your doctor can tell you whether minimally invasive endoscopic spine surgery is an option to treat what’s causing your neck or back pain. As a rule, surgery should always be considered a last resort for these conditions, but if you’ve tried various non-surgical treatments over a six- to 12-month period that haven’t helped, then surgery can be reasonable option to address certain problems.
Will I need physical therapy afterward? How long is the recovery?
In many cases, physical therapy is considered an important part of a patient’s swift and complete recovery and begins two to six weeks after surgery. Recovery often takes place over weeks – instead of months with open surgery – and patients who work in an office can typically return to at least a part-time schedule within a couple of weeks.
“The most pressing question most patients have is how fast they can get back to work or sports after undergoing minimally invasive endoscopic spine surgery,” Dr. Liu says. “I’m happy to tell them that this technique gives them the best chance of doing exactly what they want to do – quickly and safely. There are many compelling reasons more and more of our patients are benefiting from this cutting-edge technique.”