Doctors hands checking a patients back

Battle Of The Techniques: Minimally Invasive Vs. Traditional Spine Surgery

Back pain is a common issue affecting countless people worldwide, making it essential to compare minimally invasive spine surgery vs. traditional spine surgery to understand the available options for relief. 

With a staggering 80% of the population experiencing some degree of back pain during their lives, it is crucial to grasp the differences, advantages, and drawbacks of each surgical approach. 

By doing so, patients can make well-informed decisions regarding the most appropriate surgical method for their unique situation, ultimately leading to improved outcomes and a better quality of life.

In this article, we will delve into the realm of minimally invasive spine surgery and traditional spine surgery, contrasting their advantages, disadvantages, and suitable uses.

Traditional spine surgery.

Traditional spine surgery, commonly known as open surgery, has long been the preferred method for addressing back pain.

However, it is crucial to recognize the specifics of this technique and the reasons it is gradually being supplanted by more advanced approaches.


A Closer Look at Open Surgery Procedures

Open surgery encompasses several key features:

  • Large incisions: Surgeons make a substantial incision, usually about six inches long, to gain access to the spine.

  • Muscle retraction: Spinal muscles are dissected and drawn away from the bone, enabling the surgeon to operate on the affected area.

  • Anesthesia and extended surgery times: Patients undergo general anesthesia, and the procedure can last several hours.

Advantages of Traditional Spine Surgery

Despite being an older method, traditional spine surgery offers some benefits:

  • Unobstructed view of spine structures: Surgeons have a clear and uninterrupted view of the spine, allowing them to work accurately.

  • Long-established history of use: This technique has been employed for decades, making it a reputable option.

  • Suitability for advanced and severe spinal problems: In certain cases, open surgery may be the only feasible solution for addressing complex or serious spinal conditions.

Disadvantages of Traditional Spine Surgery

There are also several downsides to traditional spine surgery:

  • Increased risk of infection: The extensive incisions considerably raise the likelihood of infection.

  • Elevated blood loss during surgery: Patients may experience more blood loss due to the invasive nature of the procedure.

  • Extended recovery times and increased post-operative pain: The healing process takes longer, and patients often endure significant pain and discomfort following surgery.

Minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS).

Minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS) has gained popularity in recent years due to its many benefits and improved patient outcomes. Let’s explore what sets this approach apart from traditional surgery.

Overview of Minimally Invasive Procedures

Minimally invasive spine surgery involves:

  • Small incisions: Surgeons create tiny incisions to access the spine, minimizing tissue damage.

  • Use of specialized instruments: Advanced tools and technology allow surgeons to work through these small incisions.

  • Applicability to various spinal conditions: MISS can treat a wide range of spinal issues, including herniated discs, spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc disease.

Advantages of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

MISS offers several benefits over traditional surgery:

  • Faster recovery times: Patients can return to their daily activities more quickly due to smaller incisions and less muscle disruption.

  • Lower risk of infection: The risk of infection is significantly reduced, thanks to smaller incisions and less tissue damage.

  • Less pain and discomfort post-surgery: Patients typically experience less pain and require less pain medication following MISS.

Disadvantages of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

Despite its many advantages, there are a few drawbacks to minimally invasive spine surgery:

  • Limited visibility for the surgeon: The small incisions can make it more challenging for the surgeon to see the affected area.

  • Need for highly experienced surgeons: MISS requires specialized training and expertise, so it’s essential to find a skilled and reputable spine specialist.

Common Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery Procedures

Several spinal surgeries can be performed using minimally invasive techniques, such as:

  • Kyphoplasty: A procedure to repair vertebral compression fractures using a balloon device and bone cement.

  • Spinal Fusion: A method of permanently joining two or more bones in the spine to prevent movement between them, often used to treat degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, and spinal stenosis.

  • Laminectomy: A procedure to remove the spinous process and lamina of the affected vertebra, primarily performed to relieve symptoms of spinal stenosis.

  • Discectomy and Microdiscectomy: The removal of part or an entire intervertebral disc to alleviate nerve pressure, with microdiscectomy utilizing an operating microscope for added precision.

  • Spinal Cord Stimulator Placement: A minimally invasive procedure to implant a small device that sends electrical currents to the spinal cord for pain relief.

  • Interspinous Spacer Placement: The insertion of a spacer between two interspinous processes in the lumbar spine to increase space and alleviate spinal stenosis symptoms.

  • Cervical Disc Replacement: A procedure to replace a damaged cervical disc with an artificial disc device, accessed through a small incision in the front of the neck.
Doctor holding and pointing to a model of a spine

Making the decision: minimally invasive vs. traditional spine surgery.

Choosing between minimally invasive spine surgery and traditional surgery ultimately depends on your specific condition and individual needs.

Consult a trusted and board-certified spine specialist with experience in both techniques to guide you through the decision-making process. They will consider factors such as your overall health, the severity of your spinal condition, and your personal preferences to recommend the best course of action.

In summary, both minimally invasive spine surgery and traditional spine surgery have their pros and cons. While MISS has gained popularity due to its many benefits, such as faster recovery times and lower infection risks, traditional surgery may still be necessary for certain complex or severe spinal problems.

By consulting with an experienced spine specialist, you can make an informed decision about the best treatment option for your specific situation.

Elderly woman on a jog

In conclusion

The battle between minimally invasive spine surgery and traditional spine surgery is one that ultimately depends on each patient’s unique circumstances.

While minimally invasive techniques have revolutionized the field of spinal surgery, offering faster recovery times, less pain, and fewer complications, they may not be suitable for every case. Traditional surgery remains an essential option for addressing more complex or severe spinal issues.

By working closely with an experienced and board-certified spine specialist, patients can make an informed decision on the best treatment approach tailored to their individual needs, ensuring optimal outcomes and improved quality of life.