5 Common Questions About Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery


Because of a sedentary lifestyle, more and more people struggle with spine issues like chronic pain or more serious diseases. In many cases, patients need surgery, and while most of them know about open spine surgery, minimally invasive spine surgery remains a less common option. The idea of undergoing spine surgery for a lingering back or neck problem can certainly be intimidating. But many people don’t know much about minimally invasive spine (MIS) surgery, which offers many benefits compared to traditional “open” surgery, says Kaixuan Liu, MD, Ph.D., founder of Atlantic Spine Center.

MIS surgery requires only tiny incisions since it accesses the spine using small tools that gently push back soft tissue and remove bone or spinal disc material that’s causing pain, says Dr. Liu, who is fellowship-trained in this increasingly popular surgical technique.

Minimally invasive spine surgery types

There are different minimally invasive spine surgery types, for example, a discectomy, which is the removal of tissue that is pressing on a nerve root or the spinal cord causing discomfort. ACDF is a removal of a disc through the front of a patient's neck to reduce pressure. Laminectomy is performed to remove the part of a vertebra to relieve pressure off the spinal cord. Spinal fusion targets joining together two or more bones in the spine to cut the movement between them. These are some of the most common minimally invasive spine surgery types, but there are more.

How to prepare for spine surgery?

In most cases, there's no need to worry about how to prepare for back surgery, as the majority of patients don’t need a special preparation period. But your doctor can advise you on how to prepare for spine surgery. For example, losing excess weight can relieve pressure on the spine and speed recovery. Incorporating healthy habits and quitting bad ones, like smoking, are also great ways to prepare for surgery. Probably, the most important tips are to plan time off work so that you could relax during the recovery period and avoid blood thinning medications prior to surgery.

Minimally invasive spine surgery risks

There are certain risks associated with this surgery, however, there are more risks in open spine surgery. Adverse reactions to anesthetics, unexpected blood loss, and local infections are among the most common risks of any surgery, including MIS. Your doctor can consult with you on ways to lower spine surgery risks.

Despite the popularity of MIS surgery, Dr. Liu frequently sees patients who still have many questions about the option. So, in this article, he also answers the 5 most common questions about MIS surgery to raise awareness of this treatment option.

1. What advantages does MIS surgery offer if compared to open surgery?

The benefits are numerous. Because the surgeon’s cuts are so small and trauma to nearby tissue minimized, MIS surgery usually leads to less pain and blood loss than open surgery, which requires much larger incisions. And while any surgery comes with risks, those are also diminished with MIS surgery. The odds of infection are greatly reduced, along with the chances you may need a blood transfusion during surgery. On top of that, smaller incisions mean smaller scars and a better cosmetic result. So, to sum up, there are numerous advantages including reduced invasion, shorter recovery period, and a smaller chance of scarring.

2. Isn’t MIS surgery still considered experimental?

It is true that some time ago, MIS surgery was a new treatment option. But it has been successfully used for the last three decades, and MIS surgical techniques have only become more refined as time passes. The technique itself is supported by numerous studies and research. To perform MIS surgery, surgeons and operating room clinicians are required to be highly trained, so you’re benefiting from a wealth of expertise and education. The surgical equipment used is also extremely technical and available at only reputable, well-established facilities. So, it is quite hard to call this surgery experimental.

3. Which spine conditions can benefit from MIS surgery?

Actually, there are a number of conditions that can benefit from such a surgery. The number of conditions it’s used for has grown tremendously since the 1990s and includes sciatica, herniated discs, spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal, and spondylolisthesis, also known as a condition with which a vertebra slips out of place onto the bone beneath it. You should consult a doctor if you think you can benefit from treatment. Your doctor will perform imaging and other diagnostic tests to determine your eligibility for MIS surgery. For example, if your neck or back pain persists beyond 6 to 12 months, despite exhausting all non-invasive treatments, it's a good idea to ask your doctor if you are a candidate for MIS surgery.

4. How long will it take me to recover from MIS surgery?

It depends, but most likely much faster than you would from open spine surgery. MIS surgery typically doesn’t even require a hospital stay, so you’ll be able to go home within hours after the procedure. Even before that, you’ll be able to get up and walk around with minimal discomfort. Within a week or two, you’ll be able to go back to work, and getting back to all your normal activities and physical pursuits should take only a few additional weeks. So, all in all, the recovery can last for 1-2 weeks, or even less.

5. Will I need physical therapy after MIS surgery?

It is generally advised to join physical therapy after MIS surgery. Reaching your full physical potential after MIS surgery requires a willingness to strengthen muscles surrounding the spine and maximize your flexibility – two goals prioritized in physical therapy. Within 2 to 6 weeks of your procedure, your doctor will let you know if you would benefit from physical therapy. Moreover, many MIS surgery patients notice that physical therapy speeds their overall recovery, making them feel better quicker. So, increasing the speed of your recovery and boosting your surgical results are also two reasons to take this added step and join physical therapy.

Want to learn more? We have a multitude of short 3-D animated videos showing minimally invasive options and the conditions that can be treated by them. To view, visit our video page at: Spinal Care Video Library