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Laser Spine Surgery

What is Laser Spine Surgery


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I often see patients for consultations who ask me about laser spine surgery. Oftentimes, this question is coming from a spine patient who needs surgery and has heard about the now closed Laser Spine Institute.

Laser Spine Institute (LSI) formerly based in Tampa, Florida promoted the use of laser in Spinal Surgery as a way to allow spine surgeons to perform spinal surgery through much smaller and smaller incisions. By doing this, patients would therefore recover faster and therefore return to their activities of daily living quickly. One of LSI’s print ad showed a young woman on the beach with a band aid covering her spine surgery incision. The ad was meant to convey that with laser spine surgery a patient can have spinal surgery through a small incision and return quickly to normal activities such as going to the beach.

In spinal surgery, the laser is used as an instrument to remove tissue and therefore it is limited in its  role and function. The laser is unable to help in those cases where any kind of spinal alignment correction and instrumentation are needed to stabilize the spine. The laser also has limited value if the surgery requires an extensive exposure of the spine. Therefore, the laser is another tool which has its own role to play.

The concept of laser spine surgery fits into the larger concept of making spinal surgery less invasive and more comfortable for patients. This concept is called minimally invasive spine (MIS) surgery. The goal of MIS surgery is to limit the extent of the exposure of the spine and limit the amount of soft tissue disruption. By limiting the amount of tissue disruption during surgery the patient can have a much less pain therefore leading to a much quicker recovery and return to normal activities such as going to the beach.

Traditional Spinal Surgery usually requires large incisions to expose the spine. As a result of these large incision, the patient will often experience significant post-surgery pain and a slow recovery.

With MIS, spine surgery has changed from surgery which has to be done in a hospital with a 2 -3 day hospital stay to surgery which can be done in an outpatient facility where the patient can return to their home the day of surgery. This much quicker recovery has been a major advance in treating patients with spinal disorder that requires surgery. No longer is spine surgery a scary proposition with big incisions, long surgical time and long recovery period.

The advantage of laser spine surgery as well as minimally invasive spine surgery is that these spine surgery procedures are more precise with smaller incisions with less tissue/muscle disruption therefore leading to much faster recovery after surgery.  Special instruments as well as the microscope are very helpful in MIS by allowing the surgeon to operate through a much smaller incision. Another important component of MIS is specialized anesthesia which allows most patients to recover without significant pain and to go home the same day of surgery.  All of these advancements lead to a much better patient experience and better patient outcome and better results from spine surgery.

To summarize, the laser that is used in spine surgery is an instrument that allows for surgeons to minimize the incision and tissue disruption therefore leading to faster patient recovery. That said, laser spine surgery is limited in what it can do.  Laser spine surgery’s goals are better achieved with minimally invasive spine surgery.  MIS uses a more focused and targeted incision combined with instruments such as the microscope and specialized anesthesia techniques to ensure less pain and a faster recovery to normal activities.


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Dwight S. Tyndall, MD, FAAOS

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