Types of back operations

Patients evaluating the different types of back operations available to them to treat chronic neck or back pain should be sure to do a fair amount of research about the risks and benefits of each procedure. Getting a variety of opinions from different spine specialists about which surgery may offer the best outcome will also be an important part of the decision-making process. In general, spine surgeries for degenerative spine conditions are categorized in two ways: open spine surgery or minimally invasive spine surgery. Minimally invasive surgery is a far less invasive procedure, though not all patients will be candidates for this approach.

Open spine surgery

As the name suggests, an open spine surgery is a highly invasive procedure. Overnight hospitalization is required for these back operations and most patients remain in the hospital for two or three days following the procedure. During an open back procedure, a large incision is required and muscle tissues are disrupted to access the spine and provide the surgeon with a clear, first-hand view of the spinal anatomy. Due to its high level of invasiveness, an open spine surgery involves an increased risk of infection, nerve damage, scar tissue formation and failed back surgery syndrome. The recovery period after open back operations can be long and painful. Some individuals take up to a year to return to a full range of activities.

Minimally invasive surgery

Minimally invasive spine surgery is a minimally invasive approach that is performed on an outpatient basis, which means that overnight hospitalization is not required. Most patients are able to walk and return home a few hours after surgery. A small incision is made in the neck or back, through which visualization tools, a light, a laser and other small surgical tools are funneled to the area needing treatment. Muscles, ligaments and tendons are moved aside, not cut, which greatly reduces the risk of permanent damage. Due to the minimally invasive nature of these back operations, patients enjoy much shorter and less painful rehabilitations.^ Some individuals can return to a full range of activities six to eight weeks after the procedure.