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I have some concerns about minimally invasive spine surgery.

Being concerned about having surgery is a completely normal feeling. We know you’ll have questions about minimally invasive spine surgery, what to expect from surgery to recovery and so much more.

Let’s explore some of the common questions and concerns that have you thinking twice about surgery.

I still have some concerns about minimally invasive spine surgery.

Managing pain related to a back or neck condition, can be difficult. The pain can make everyday activities like caring for yourself or your family, engaging in sports and working difficult or impossible. Your pain may be accompanied by numbness or tingling and weakness which can further limit your ability to function.

Many people with pain from a back or neck condition in New Jersey benefit from conservative treatments like physical therapy or injections. Unfortunately, these treatments sometimes fail to offer you significant relief of your symptoms, and your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to address your problem.

Spine surgery has evolved tremendously over the past 10-15 years. The most common spinal surgeries can be performed minimally invasively. Minimally invasive spine surgery is usually performed using small incisions and specialized instruments to decompress nerves that are being pinched back and causing your pain.

It’s common for those who are facing any type of surgery to be anxious about the procedure. As the leading minimally invasive spine surgeons in NJ, we’re here to discuss any questions you may have about surgery.

Whether you choose to meet with us in our Northern NJ office, our Manhattan office or with another surgeon, we encourage you to ask every question you have. You deserve to have peace of mind about your potential surgery.

What is the difference between minimally invasive spine surgery and open spine surgery?

If you require spine surgery there are a few different options you can consider. You should work closely with your NJ doctor to discuss your options and to decide on the best procedure to fit your needs.

Open Spine Surgery

Historically, all spine surgery has been performed through a large, open exposure. Open spine surgery involves a large incision and dissection of the muscles that support your back off of the bone to visualize entire segments of the spine, even though those parts that are not needed to be seen in order to perform the surgery. Surgical instruments are then used to cut away disc, bony or ligamentous materials to decompress your nerves.

Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

Minimally invasive spine surgery uses much smaller incisions and much less disturbance to the muscles that support your spine. Only the muscle directly over the surgical area is touched, and these muscles are not cut or dissected. Instead, the muscle is gently spread apart using specialized surgical instruments. Your surgeon may use a microscope to visualize your spinal structures, and the material that is compressing your nerve is removed.

Comparing Both Surgeries

Both the open and minimally invasive approaches to spine surgery achieve the same goal – to decompress your spinal nerves, and if necessary stabilize the spine, so you can return to your normal level of function. Minimally invasive spinal surgery can achieve this with less damage to the muscles that support the spine. Furthermore, some minimally invasive surgeries even permit excellent results with less removal of bone and ligament than open approaches. Thus, sometimes the surgical goal can be achieved with less effect to the natural structures important in spine stability.

Since standard open spine surgery requires a large incision and involves extensive dissection of your lumbar muscles, your recovery may take some extra time waiting for these muscles to heal. There is the possibility that some of the muscle damage may be permanent. An open incision also means there will be increased blood loss during surgery and an increased risk of infection.

The smaller incision in the minimally invasive approach means less pain, less blood loss and a faster healing time. Together that all means you will have a more rapid return to your active lifestyle.

What are the benefits of minimally invasive spine surgery?

There are many different benefits of choosing minimally invasive spine surgery over a standard, open procedure.

Some of the benefits of a minimally invasive procedure include:

  • Small incision
  • Less damage to back muscles
  • Less blood loss
  • Less pain
  • Decreased risk of infection
  • Faster healing time
  • Less lost time at work
  • Faster return to sports and other regular activities

Important things to remember

Remember that everyone heals differently and at different rates. Sometimes the healing process is determined by the amount of damage your spine or your nerves have sustained prior to your surgery.

Your healing may be limited by your pre-operative activity level or health status. Patients who are more active prior to surgery and who engage in positive health behaviors typically enjoy a speedy and seamless recovery from spine surgery.

How long is the recovery from minimally invasive spine surgery?

Many patients are concerned about how long the healing process takes after minimally invasive spine surgery. Two of the most common questions we hear are about returning to work and sports.

Everyone heals at different rates, which is why we recommend having a conversation with your NJ surgeon about your specific condition and what to expect after your surgery. In general, you can expect to be up and walking immediately after minimally invasive spine surgery. This is due to the fact that your muscles are spared from a major dissection during the procedure. By keeping those muscles intact, you can quickly get back to your normal active lifestyle.

Recovery timelines

For many minimally invasive spine procedures, you can be back to your normal activities as quickly as 3-4 weeks after your minimally invasive surgical procedure. If you engage in high intensity work or athletic activities, your doctor may ask you to avoid these activities a few weeks longer, just to be sure that things heal properly. If your surgery requires a spine stabilization, also known as a spinal fusion, your doctor may bring you along more slowly even though you may be feeling great.

What are the risks of minimally invasive spine surgery?

Every surgical procedure carries some risks, regardless of the style of surgery. While there are some risks associated with minimally invasive spine surgery, these kinds of risks are no different when compared to a regular open spine surgery and in some cases their frequency is much less when a minimally invasive approach is used.

Risks associated with minimally invasive spine surgery include:

  • Spinal fluid leak
  • Hematoma
  • Infection
  • Nerve inflammation or, rarely, nerve damage
  • Failure of bone fusion also known as non-union or pseudoarthrosis

Your doctor will work with you to decrease all risk factors associated with surgery. It is important that you understand the risks that may come with minimally invasive or any other spine surgery. Having an open conversation with your surgeon to understand these risks is one way to help decrease any concerns you may have with your procedure.

How do I know if minimally invasive spine surgery is right for me?

While not everyone is a candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery, many people are. Some of the candidates that are not the right fit for surgery include people who have chronic pain that may not be amenable to any kind of surgery, and others that may engage in lifestyle habits, like smoking, that may decrease their chance of a full recovery after the procedure.

People who do well with minimally invasive spine surgery typically exhibit traits of an active lifestyle. These may include:

  • Avoiding smoking
  • Engaging in regular physical exercise
  • Participating in sports or other recreational activities

While the surgery typically works well for those that are weekend warriors, it also tends to be a good fit for those who are less active.

The best way to know if minimally invasive spine surgery is right for you is to speak with a local surgeon. They’ll get to know you, your medical history and they’ll detail whether they feel you’re the right candidate for surgery.

Deciding to have surgery

The decision to have surgery for your back can be a tough one to make. You may be feeling anxious about how the procedure may affect your day-to-day activities and active lifestyle. These feelings are common, and are best dealt with by finding a surgeon who will listen to your concerns and explain the risks and benefits associated with minimally invasive spine surgery.

Back pain and sciatica may limit your ability to move freely and enjoy your normal activities. By working closely with a doctor you trust, you can gain confidence in your decision to eliminate your back pain.