The Failed Promises of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

24 April 2015
24 April 2015, Comments: Comments Off on The Failed Promises of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

First, what exactly is minimally invasive spine surgery? You would think that this term means surgery involving minimal manipulation of, and minimal damage to the tissues of the spine and around the spine. But, in reality that is not necessarily the case. The definition of minimally invasive spine surgery is not based on the amount of tissue removed or manipulated, but simply on the size of the skin incision. Simply put, any spine surgery can be labeled “minimally invasive” as long as the skin incision is small enough. As a result of this definition, even surgeries involving removal of bone (laminectomies), and spinal fusions with instrumentation, can be considered “minimally invasive”.

In recent years we have seen a booming industry of minimally invasive spine surgery centers with a marketing juggernaut that have made these centers a ubiquitous presence on the internet, sports radio, magazines, and even on television. It is almost impossible to escape this marketing barrage. The popularity of this type of surgery has exploded based on the promises of shorter (or no) hospital stays, reduced scarring, shorter recovery time, and superior results. It is understandable how these promises are attractive to prospective patients that are looking for information regarding their treatment options. But, lost in all this hype are two main facts: that minimally invasive spine surgery still carries many of the same risks associated with conventional open surgery; and that, so far, it has not shown to be more effective than traditional spine surgery.

If you look at the medical literature, you come to the realization that the marketing hype does not match clinical reality. In the last 5 years there have been several published systematic reviews of controlled trials comparing the effectiveness of minimally invasive spinal surgery with conventional open surgery. This is the best medical evidence currently available. None of the published reviews, not even one, found minimally invasive surgery to offer significant advantages. You can check these studies here: Review 1, Review 2, Review 3, Review 4, Review 5, Review 6. Remember, that having better outcomes is one of the main premises of minimally invasive spine surgery marketing.

Besides failing to show any significant advantage, several of these published studies also found increased incidence of complications like nerve root injuries, dural tears, and reoperations with minimally invasive spine surgeries. This other recent controlled trial showed the rate of re-operations at 12 months to be 38% for laser discectomy compared to 16% for conventional discectomy.

Conclusion: Despite the marketing “siren songs” minimally invasive surgery is still surgery, with many of the same risks of traditional open surgery (and in some cases, increased risks), and with no track record of improved outcomes. Minimally invasive spine surgeries have failed to show better results for the treatment of spinal stenosis or disc herniations. Furthermore, minimally invasive spine surgeries usually lead to additional spine surgeries in the future.

If you suffer from chronic neck or back pain, consider regenerative medicine as a safer alternative to surgery. Schedule a free consultation today to learn how regenerative treatment can help you manage your chronic pain.

To learn more about non-surgical alternatives to back or joint surgeries go to: .