Endoscopic Spinal Surgery

Back Surgery Information

Endoscopic spinal surgery is a type of non-invasive back surgery that utilizes special instruments and video cameras. It is non-invasive in that instead of the traditional open back surgery that exposes large areas of internal tissue, only small incisions of about 2 cm are made which are just wide enough for various instruments to pass through.

Endoscopic procedures have been around for many decades but were primarily used for diagnostic reasons, i.e. to investigate diseases. But since the 1980s, endoscopic methods have improved to such an extent that they are used both for diagnosing and treating diseases. Endoscopy has also diversified into different surgical disciplines, including the treatment of spinal conditions such as pinched nerves, herniated discs, whiplash, fused nerves, degenerative discs, spinal arthritis, bulging discs and other spinal deformities.

There are several types of instruments used in endoscopic spinal surgery however the one universal device is the endoscope. This is essential a mini camera mounted onto a long, thin lens and attached to a cable. The endoscope is narrow enough to pass into very slender body cavities such as the pharynx or hollow internal organs such as the bladder. Attached to the lens is a tiny light that illuminates the area under examination. The cable is connected to a television screen which displays the internal areas through which the endoscope is passing.

Since the image of the operative area is highly magnified and well illuminated, the surgeon can perform the surgery using specialized instruments that are inserted into the tiny cuts, where as previously it would have required a large incision and deep-tissue entry. Some sophisticated types of endoscopy use computer-generated 3-D images created from MRI data that enables the doctor ‘see’ through the skin and into the spinal area.

There are a number of benefits of endoscopic spinal surgery over conventional methods. First, since the incisions are quite small, there is less damage to the surrounding healthy tissues, less pain, scarring and discomfort for the patient. The immediate post-operative recovery is much faster. The hospitalization stays are considerably shorter and in some cases the procedure might only be a day surgery with no overnight stay required. Consequently, the hospital bills are much lower. The amount of anesthesia required is much lower and sometimes only a local anesthesia is administered. The long-term recovery is also greatly shortened from the typical 3 - 6 months (or longer) down to 4 – 6 weeks. Patients can therefore resume their normal activities within a much shorter time.

That said, not every back condition can be treated using endoscopic spinal surgery. The criteria would depend on the type and extend of the spinal defect. Another determining factor is availability of the endoscopic instruments to perform the particular technique. The instruments for endoscopic and conventional surgery are quite different and cannot be interchanged. Only a surgeon specializing in these techniques can recommend an endoscopic treatment. Although one would prefer less invasive and less expensive operation, the most important thing is to get the best surgical procedure performed that will ensure the successful treatment of your condition.