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.

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What are the advantages of minimally invasive lumbar spinal fusion?

The major advantage of all of these minimally invasive techniques is that there is less damage caused to the surrounding tissues. Unfortunately, in traditional spinal surgery it is necessary to cut through muscles and move them out of the way in order to reach the spine. This can cause a large amount of pain following surgery, and it can lengthen the recovery time. Instead of cutting and moving muscles, the minimally invasive techniques can more gently spread through the muscles to allow access to the spine. This is much less painful for the patient, and it does not require as long of a recovery period for the muscle to heal.

Another benefit of less muscle damage is less blood loss and thus a reduced need for blood transfusions using the minimally invasive techniques. There is often less need for narcotic pain medications following this form of surgery, and a shorter hospital stay.

What is the disadvantage of minimally invasive lumbar spinal fusion?

As with any new technique, one of the major disadvantages is the additional time needed to perform the procedure. While a surgeon may be very comfortable with the traditional surgical fusion techniques, it will take time to be able to achieve the same outcome using these new methods. Surgeons with more experience can now perform lumbar spinal fusion in equal or even less time than with the traditional techniques.

Not all surgeons perform these techniques, so it may not be available from your current surgeon or in your area. Because this is a relatively new technique, many insurance companies consider this to be an investigational surgery and do not provide insurance coverage for it, so a patient should check with the insurer prior to surgery regarding coverage.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/2/2015

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