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Direct visualized rhizotomy

Minimally invasive vs. traditional spinal fusion

Minimally invasive vs. traditional spinal fusion 1000 667 Dan Lieberman

Hi there, everyone! My name is Dr. Daniel Lieberman, and I’m the Medical Director at Phoenix Spine & Joint. For those of you who’ve never heard of me, I graduated from the University of California San Francisco’s Neurosurgery program, which is the leading neurosurgery program in the U.S.. I’ve also completed more than 4,500 back surgeries over the past 12 years. What I want to talk to you about today is the effectiveness of minimally invasive spinal fusion compared to traditional spinal fusion.

The origin of spinal fusion

Spinal fusion is a type of surgery that was originally conceived by doctors who were trying to help patients with back issues. They sought to provide help by translating an idea from joints like the knee into the world of spine care, which was that if it hurts to move, we can make it stop hurting by stopping it from moving. Decades ago, this idea led directly to the creation of spinal fusion surgery.

Traditional spinal fusion surgery

Spinal fusion surgery involves two primary steps. First, all of the soft tissue is removed from between the two vertebrae that will be fused, including the associated joints which are roughed up. The edges of the joints are normally smooth so that they can glide over one another. To get a spinal fusion, the surgeon wants the joints to heal together as solid bone, so they roughen up the edges of the joint. Second, the surgeon places hardware to fixate the bones so that the vertebrae cannot move. After surgery, the fixated joints naturally grow together as the body heals. The hardware is intended to be permanent and stays in your body for life.

The traditional method of performing spinal fusion had many drawbacks. For instance, surgeons cut through back muscles and ligaments in order to get to the vertebrae. This weakens the support structures of the back. Also, once the spine is fused, there’s a loss of cushioning by the level that is fused. The levels above and below the fusion therefore were absorbing double the shock, and tended to wear out, leading to the need for more spinal fusion. Nearly one in five people having a spinal fusion this year had another spinal fusion within the last four years.

Then there were all the rest of the complications that come with major surgery. Patients stayed in the hospital afterward, which put them at risk for hospital errors and infections, such as pneumonia and urinary tract infections. Some patients could spend months or even up to a year recovering.

Phoenix Spine & Joint can help you find minimally invasive spinal fusion

At Phoenix Spine & Joint, we don’t do traditional spinal fusion anymore. We haven’t for years, because newer technologies have given us better options. We use state-of-the-art equipment, such as microscopes and tubular retractors, that allow us to operate with only a 1/2-inch to 1-inch incision in your back without cutting vital back muscles and tendons. Our procedure typically only takes a few hours, and most of our patients get to go home the same day. Also, the recovery time for our procedure is much shorter than the traditional version, since there is significantly less trauma involved. We even recommend that our patients get up and walk for 10 minutes starting the day after surgery.

If you’re ready to find relief from your back pain, our team at Phoenix Spine & Joint may be able to help you. Contact one of our care coordinators today for more information or to schedule a free second opinion.