Is minimally invasive spine surgery right for me?

One of the first things you need to ask yourself is if minimally invasive spine surgery is the right choice for you. Find out if you’re a good candidate and whether minimally invasive spine surgery can solve your discomfort.

What is minimally invasive spine surgery?

To fully understand minimally invasive spine surgery, you must first understand what causes the pain in your back or neck and how that can produce leg or arm pain.

Spine surgery is most successful when it addresses pain or other symptoms that are caused by compression of nerves in your spine. This compression may be caused by various problems affecting different anatomical structures. There ARE many, many words that are used to describe these conditions and some of them are very technical, making a confusing picture.

Some of the more common terms include:

  • Herniated or bulging discs
  • Degenerated discs
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Pinched nerve
  • Spinal cord compression
  • Spinal tumor (although rare)

Whenever a structure in your spine is out of place, it can compress a nerve. You may then feel pain in your back or pain traveling into your buttock, down your leg or even into your foot. When a similar phenomenon occurs in your neck the pain may travel down your arm and into your hand or fingers. Weakness and altered sensation can occur with the pain or in isolation. Very often these symptoms can be treated without surgery, but sometimes surgery is the best solution if you live in the NJ or NYC area.

Minimally invasive spine surgery is a type of spine surgery that is on the cutting edge of neurosurgical techniques to help relieve these symptoms. Minimally invasive procedures typically involve small incisions. Your spinal muscles are then gently opened with specialized tubes called muscle dilators that permits access to the spine with little muscle damage.

A microscope or endoscope is used to visualize the surgical target and specialized instruments are introduced through the small incision to decompress the nerve(s) being pinched or irritated. If necessary to treat your condition, metal implants or “instrumentation” are placed. Once your surgeon ensures that your spinal nerves are appropriately decompressed, he or she will then remove the surgical instruments and the small incision will be closed.

When compared to standard open spinal surgery, minimally invasive spine surgery typically involves less blood loss, less insult to the spinal muscles, less pain and patients typically enjoy a faster return to their previous active lifestyles. An additional benefit is a much lower rate of infection.

Is minimally invasive spine surgery right for me?

Regardless of the type of surgery performed, most people have questions regarding their procedure. Your doctor should be able to answer all of your questions regarding minimally invasive spine surgery. The most important question to answer is, “Is surgery right for me?”

If you have a pain or neurological condition related to your spine, there are many different treatment options available to you in NJ and NYC. Physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications are usually the first line of treatment. Sometimes, injections are used to decrease inflammation and provide symptomatic relief. These are just two examples of what is called “conservative” or “non-operative’ spine care.

When conservative treatments fail to produce significant or durable relief from pain or if neurological symptoms such as weakness and loss of sensation exist, your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure. It is important to understand that, although your pain and suffering may be great and you have tried and not had success with conservative treatments, you may still not be a good surgical candidate. One of the most important qualities in a NJ spine surgeon is determining which patient to recommend surgery to.

If you have confidence in your surgeon and he or she determines that you are a good operative candidate, you should consider surgery despite whatever misgivings you may have, because surgery can really help.

Although the kinds of spine surgery that are being performed in NJ and NYC have not changed that much recently, the way in which they are being performed has changed greatly. The capability to perform these surgeries with less invasiveness now exists, making these surgeries less painful and easier to recover from.

Am I a good candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery?

It is often said that a good surgeon knows when to operate while a great surgeon knows when not to operate. You should work closely with your NJ doctor before surgery to determine if you are a good candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery. The first and most important question is whether your condition can be effectively treated with surgery.

The next most important question is whether surgery can be avoided by starting or continuing a non-operative treatment strategy. Finally, if your surgeon believes that surgery is your best option, it is critical to get an honest opinion as to whether your condition can be effectively addressed with a minimally invasive approach or whether you would be better of with a traditional “open” surgical approach.

While spine surgery can help a great variety of people of different ages and health statuses, there are some additional variables that help your doctor predict if you are an optimal candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery in the NJ and NYC area.

Variables that tend to indicate a more favorable outcome include:

  • Symptoms related to nerve compression. Typically this involves pain that radiates from the spine to the arm or leg.
  • An active, healthy lifestyle. If you are an active person who engages in regular physical exercise, you are likely to have a positive surgical outcome.
  • A relatively recent onset of symptoms. If your back pain or leg pain has occurred within days to months, then you are more likely to be a good candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery than if your pain has existed for years. Chronic pain conditions may not have as favorable an outcome. This does not mean that you definitely won’t benefit from the procedure; it simply means that your prognosis is not as favorable.
  • Not smoking. Smoking causes decreased blood flow to your spine.  This leads to degeneration of discs and weakening of bones.  It also inhibits healing and is particularly problematic in the healing of spinal fusions and may slow the healing process.
  • Not being overweight. People with significant weight issues can have pain generated from excessive strain on their back muscles.  This is not something that can be fixed with spine surgery. Also heavier people tend to have a higher rate of complications after spine surgery. Being significantly overweight however doesn’t definitely preclude you from being a candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery. This is particularly true if you have symptoms related to nerve compression.

In general, people who engage in an active, healthy lifestyle are typically the best candidates for minimally invasive spine surgery. The number one advantage of minimally invasive spine surgery over traditional “open” spine surgery is the ability to get you back to your life faster to enjoy all that New Jersey has to offer.

The decision to have spine surgery is an important one and one that you, your NJ family and your surgeon should take very seriously. Finding the right surgeon to perform your spine surgery is paramount. This can ensure that you are comfortable with your decision to have surgery and can give you confidence in your decision.

When presented with the option to have surgery, you will likely wonder if surgery is right for you. This is normal and common. How will the surgery affect your ability to work, care for your family or engage in normal recreational activities?

Everyone is different, and the answer to those questions is personal. For many common spine conditions, minimally invasive spine surgery may be the fastest way for you to return to your normal function and activity level.