5 Common Questions About Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery


The idea of undergoing spine surgery for a lingering back or neck problem can certainly be intimidating. But many people don’t know much about minimally invasive spine (MIS) surgery, which offers many benefits compared to traditional “open” surgery, says Kaixuan Liu, MD, PhD, founder of Atlantic Spine Center.

MIS surgery requires only tiny incisions since it accesses the spine using small tools that gently push back soft tissue and remove bone or spinal disc material that’s causing pain, says Dr. Liu, who is fellowship-trained in this increasingly popular surgical technique.

But despite MIS surgery’s popularity, Dr. Liu frequently sees patients who still have many questions about the option. Here, he answers the 5 most common questions about MIS surgery.

1. What advantages does MIS surgery offer compared to open surgery?

The benefits are numerous. Because the surgeon’s cuts are so small and trauma to nearby tissues is minimized, MIS surgery usually leads to less pain and blood loss than open surgery, which requires much larger incisions. And while any surgery comes with risks, those are also diminished with MIS surgery. The odds of infection are much reduced along with chances you’d need a blood transfusion during surgery. On top of that, smaller incisions mean smaller scars and a better cosmetic result.

2. Isn’t MIS surgery still considered experimental?

Not in the least. Successfully used for the last three decades, MIS surgical techniques have only become more refined as time passes. To perform MIS surgery, surgeons and operating room clinicians are required to be highly trained, so you’re benefiting from a wealth of expertise. The surgical equipment used is also highly technical and available at only reputable, well-established facilities.

3. Which spine conditions can benefit from MIS surgery?

A long list of conditions. If your neck or back pain persists beyond 6 to 12 months despite exhausting all non-invasive treatments, ask your doctor if you are a candidate for MIS surgery. The number of conditions it’s used for has grown tremendously since the 1990s and includes sciatica, herniated discs, spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal) and spondylolisthesis (when a vertebra slips out of place onto the bone beneath it). Your doctor will perform imaging and other diagnostic tests to determine your eligibility for MIS surgery.

4. How long will it take me to recover from MIS surgery?

Most likely much faster than you would from open spine surgery. MIS surgery typically doesn’t even require a hospital stay, so you’ll be able to go home within hours after the procedure. Even before that, you’ll be able to get up and walk around with minimal discomfort. Within a week or two, you’ll be able to go back to work, and getting back to all your normal activities and physical pursuits should take only a few additional weeks.

5. Will I need physical therapy after MIS surgery?

Probably. Reaching your full physical potential after MIS surgery requires a willingness to strengthen muscles surrounding the spine and maximize your flexibility – two goals prioritized in physical therapy. Within 2 to 6 weeks of your procedure, your doctor will let you know if you would benefit from physical therapy. With many MIS surgery patients noticing that physical therapy speeds their overall recovery, making them feel better quicker. They happily take this added step to boost their surgical results.

Want to learn more? We have a multitude of short 3-D animated videos showing minimally invasive options and the conditions that can be treated by them. To view, visit our video page at: Spinal Care Video Library