Laser Spine Surgery-Everything You Wanted To Know and Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Ask About Back Pain

As a doctor who is devoted to easing the pain and suffering of my patients it seems to me that I can spend only half my time in such pursuit. The other half of the time ends up being spent answering questions about what I think about “laser spine surgery.” This blog is intended to answer some of your questions about laser spine surgery and what you need to know if you are considering this treatment option for your back pain.

“Laser spine surgery,” what could sound more advanced, more precise, more sexy than using lasers during surgery? If lasers are good enough in the mind of Dr. Evil, why not for us too.

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A laser is a very intense, highly focused beam of light. It can be used as a cutting instrument, working on soft tissue and has proved helpful in some fields of medicine such as Lasik eye surgery. The perception is that laser surgery for the spine would be helpful by making smaller incisions, decreasing blood loss and reducing scarring. Those who support its use promise a more gentle surgery that leads to a quick recovery as it is more technically advanced and is more minimally invasive than the more standard approach.

This would be wonderful… if it were true. But, unfortunately, it is not. Lasers have several drawbacks that make it a poor choice for spine surgery.

First a laser is a straight beam of light which only cuts straight. It does not go around objects. It does not cut behind bone or muscle or ligaments. A scalpel on the other hand can work around objects and remove fragments hidden around corners

Second, in the hands of an experienced surgeon a scalpel can be manipulated by a variation of applied pressure to make a cut. During surgery there is a great deal of tactile information given to the surgeon by the pressure applied to a blade as she or he is cutting through tissue. This is lost with the use of laser.

Finally, lasers cut tissue by heat. This heat can be transmitted to adjacent parts of the body such as nerves and can actually end up damaging them. A scalpel does not generate heat.

While lasers have no place in spine surgery, the benefits that they promise are achievable by other less invasive methods. Smaller incisions, little blood loss and reducing scarring, this is all found with minimally invasive spine surgery. Minimally invasive spine surgery works through small openings with the use of a microscope and has the benefit of a traditional scalpel for the actual work.

Bottom Line: Making a decision regarding your treatment for your back pain is one of the most important decisions you will ever make and may just be the most important health decision you will ever make. You need to ask questions about the details of the procedure you are considering. Only then can you make an informed decision. We are available to answer any questions you may have about spine surgery and are willing to help you find a solution to your chronic back pain problem.