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What Is Laser Spine Surgery? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Most cases of back or neck pain will resolve without the need for surgery, but for some people, surgery may actually be the best treatment. If you fall into this category and have been contemplating your options, you may have been intrigued by the idea of laser spine surgery. After all, some spine centers advertise it, and you may be tempted to think that using lasers is an advanced and cutting-edge way of performing spine surgery. Sounds pretty appealing, right?

But at DISC Sports & Spine Center, we’d advise you to think again. Though lasers have their place in certain types of surgery, their usefulness in spine surgery is quite limited. 

Understanding the Different Types of Spine Surgery

There are a few ways your surgeon can operate on your spine. 

  • Traditional, or open, spine surgery: This is the way most people envision surgery. The surgeon uses a scalpel to make a long incision in your skin. Your muscles and soft tissue in the area are then dissected away, allowing your surgeon to visualize and directly access your spine. 
  • Minimally invasive spine surgery: Using this method, your surgeon operates through a much smaller incision. Your muscles and tissues are gently moved out of the way, rather than cut, to allow access to your spine. Specialized equipment, such as operating microscopes and C-arm, provides your surgeon with the ability to see your spine in great detail and perform the operation through the small opening. Because it involves less tissue disruption, minimally invasive spine surgery often results in less blood loss, less pain, and quicker recovery than traditional surgery. 
  • Laser surgery: This method involves directing a focused beam of light and using it to cut tissue. In some circumstances, lasers may be used to remove tissue that’s compressing on a spinal nerve and causing pain. Lasers may also be used to destroy the small nerves in the facet joints of your spine if they are the source of your pain. 

Recognizing the Limitations of Laser Spine Surgery

You probably know someone who has had their vision corrected with laser surgery. Eye surgery is one of the areas in which lasers are very useful. But when it comes to your spine, lasers are generally not as effective as the other types of surgery. For example, a laser may help get rid of disc material from a herniated disc, but performing a minimally invasive procedure called a microdiscectomy may be a better way of doing it. 

There are many spine conditions that lasers are unable to treat. Degenerative disc disease, a condition in which the spongy discs in your spine wear down over time, can’t be repaired with a laser. If you have bone spurs related to arthritis, deformity of your spine, or instability of your spine, a minimally invasive spine surgery may be necessary if you are looking for a surgical solution. 

Keep in mind, also, that laser spine surgery still requires an incision. People often think that lasers can be used to “zap” the problem from the outside, but in fact, a small incision is needed to insert the probe with the laser. 

And lastly, be aware that sometimes laser spine surgery is used more as a marketing tool  than anything. A surgeon may advertise that they perform “laser spine surgery,” but actually use a laser for only a very short portion of the procedure, while the rest of the operation is done using traditional or minimally invasive spine surgery. 

For these reasons, we don’t use lasers at DISC. Instead, we choose to focus our efforts on minimally and non-invasive techniques that help you get back to an active and pain-free life. We strive to find the least invasive solution that will deliver the best results for you.

Finding the Right Treatment Option for You

When it comes to finding a spine surgeon, we believe that knowledge is key. Take your time and do your research. You’ll find that surgeons have different philosophies and ways of practicing. Ask the following questions:

  • Can you explain my diagnosis?
  • Are there treatments I can try instead of surgery?
  • What surgical option—traditional, minimally invasive, or laser—are you suggesting and why?
  • If a laser is part of the surgery, how is it used?
  • What are the risks of this surgery?
  • What is your experience and success rate with this procedure?
  • What other procedures do you perform?
  • What is your background and training?

You should always feel confident with your decision and comfortable with your provider. Don’t leave any questions or concerns unanswered. 

At DISC Sports & Spine Center, you’ll discover that our board-certified and fellowship-trained spine surgeons are always honest and straightforward in our approach. We are always happy to meet and discuss your treatment options. We feel confident that you’ll see what makes us different.

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Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D.

About the author

Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D. Nicknamed “Dr. Fix-It” by The Red Bulletin, Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D. makes an art of helping the world’s most elite athletes return to push the boundaries of performance. The neurological spine surgeon, recognized globally for his thorough diagnoses and pioneering minimally invasive approach, is quickly redefining sports medicine, one champion at a time. Dr. Bray founded the state-of-the-art, multi-disciplinary DISC Sports & Spine Center (DISC) in 2006 located in Los Angeles, CA. Read more articles by Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D..

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