Minimally invasive spine surgery was developed to make an existing good procedure, even better.

For years, lumbar decompression and lumbar fusion have been two of the most commonly performed procedures, because so many people have low back and leg pain. Since the 1930’s surgeons have performed lumbar decompression spine surgery, although there originally was nothing minimally invasive about it. In the 1960’s, microsurgical techniques were developed, which minimized tissue disruption and improved outcomes.

In 1978, Dr. Robert Williams, MD reported his revolutionary technique, using a microscope and “micro-
lumbar discectomy instruments”. This was the first time spine surgery was being performed minimally invasive, purely based on a specific set of instruments and technique. The impetus for creating this procedure was to limit hospital time and help his Las Vegas showgirl clientele to return to work quicker, be “economically productive”, and have smaller scars. Incidentally, Dr. Williams noted his procedure did not damage the other spine joints and minimized trauma to the normal lumbar spine anatomy. He achieved his goal.

Currently, it is apparent that minimally invasive spine surgery provides improved outcomes to the traditional “open surgery”. Just as in the 1978 study, minimally invasive is defined by how the tissues are preserved and the instruments used to performing the spine surgery.

Minimally Invasive Procedure
  • Through the use of tubular dilators, minimally invasive decompression or fusion spine surgeries are performed by spreading the low back muscles in a way that does not damage them. This is in contrast to the “open procedure” in which the low back muscles are detached from the bone, causing injury.
  • By not using a tubular retractor in the “open procedure”, a larger incision is created and spine levels above and below the surgery site are exposed and potentially damaged.
  • Once the muscles are spread, the minimally invasive spine surgery performs the same decompression of the nerves without disrupting surrounding tissue.
  • Less spine anatomy is exposed, limiting potential nerve injury, lowering infection rates and lowering blood loss.
  • This lessens complications, limits pain, shortens the recovery period, and leads to less risk of future surgery.

The term minimally invasive spine surgery has unintentionally been extrapolated to describe any variation on the traditional “open surgery”. Anterior belly or side flank incisions are termed minimally invasive by some. Slightly smaller posterior incisions, still otherwise using “open” techniques, are termed minimally invasive by some. However most of these variations are still “open surgery”, with the similar risks of tissue damage and complications.

Minimally invasive spine surgery, since its real introduction in the late 1970’s, has always used “micro-instruments” to preserve the tissues and limit collateral damage.In today’s realm, small tubular retractors define the minimally invasive spine surgery approach.

If you have questions about minimally invasive spine surgery, contact our BOARD CERTIFIED spine surgeon.