Minimally Invasive Lumbar Spinal Fusion

  • Medical Author:
    Jason C. Eck, DO, MS

    Dr. Eck received a Bachelor of Science degree from the Catholic University of America in Biomedical Engineering, followed by a Master of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering from Marquette University. Following this he worked as a research engineer conducting spine biomechanics research. He then attended medical school at University of Health Sciences. He is board eligible in orthopaedic surgery.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Low Back Pain Relief

What is minimally invasive lumbar spinal fusion?

Minimally invasive lumbar spinal fusion is similar to traditional lumbar spinal fusion, but it uses smaller incisions and causes less damage to the surrounding tissues during surgery.

As with traditional lumbar spinal fusion, there are many specific techniques available to try to fuse the vertebrae together using minimally invasive techniques. This can be done through the abdomen, from the back, from the side, or with any combination of these.

Minimally invasive lumbar fusion through the abdomen uses four small incisions, approximately ½ inch in length. A fiber optic viewing camera is used, similar to other minimally invasive procedures including laparoscopic gallbladder or appendix removal.

Fusion with screws and rods can be performed through the back using several 1-2 inch incisions. In these cases a series of increasingly larger dilators (hollow tubes with solid inserts) are inserted through the incisions to help spread the muscles apart. Once the muscles have been moved away, the screws and rods can be placed through the dilator tubes. In some cases an operating microscope is used to help the surgeon see more clearly.

One of the most recent advances in minimally invasive lumbar spinal fusion is the ability to perform fusion surgery through the patient's side. There are several techniques that allow the surgeon to make a small incision, approximately 2 inches in the patient's side, directly over the planned fusion site. The muscles are then carefully moved aside, and a series of increasing larger dilators are inserted down to the lumbar spine. Specialized instruments can then be used through the dilator tube to remove the intervertebral disc and place a bone graft or metal or plastic spacer in its place. This technique is typically combined with a procedure from the back to place rods and screws for additional support.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/2/2015

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