A study presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons provided attendees with a stunning snapshot of the difference between recovery times for minimally invasive spine surgeries and standard open surgeries, as well as between two similar but different minimally invasive spine surgeries.
The study was conducted by researchers at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in New York City, and set out to compare the short-term outcomes of minimally invasive lumbar decompression surgery and minimally invasive spinal fusion. The two procedures both utilize tiny incisions that are significantly smaller than those used in standard surgery, thus allowing the patient to recover without concern for trauma to adjacent muscle and other tissue. Though the spinal fusion procedure is a much more extensive surgery, both minimally invasive procedures begin with incisions in the same location to provide access to the spine.
The two surgeries that were investigated in the study each have different purposes and outcomes, and both are available either as minimally invasive procedures or as traditional open surgeries. When a patient is experiencing pressure on a nerve that comes from a herniated or bulging disc, lumbar decompression will remove whatever material is responsible for that pressure. By contrast, patients whose spines need greater stability and strength in order to stop pressure on nerves are referred for spinal fusion, a more complicated and elaborate procedure that involves joining two or more vertebrae to each other, often with screws and rods or some kind of artificial material that bonds them together
The study identified 117 patients who had undergone minimally invasive decompression surgery as well as 51 patients who had undergone minimally invasive spinal fusion surgery. The researchers found that though all of the patients were able to return to work in the same amount of time, there was a significant difference between the two when it came to when they were able to discontinue opioid pain medication and return to work. The decompression patients were able to wean themselves off of the pain medication in a median of three days, while the spinal fusion patients took a median of seven days, and when it came to driving the difference between the two was 14 days for the decompression patients and 18 days for the spinal fusion patients.
In discussing the group’s findings, HHS spine surgeon and senior investigator of the study Sheeraz Qureshi, MD indicated that the recovery times in all three of these measures – return to work, quitting opioid pain medication and ability to drive – take significantly more time.
“Our study is the first of its kind to look at return to activities and discontinuation of narcotic pain medication after single-level lumbar decompression or single-level lumbar spine fusion performed with a minimally invasive technique. All the patients in both groups were able to resume driving and return to work within three weeks of surgery. When you compare this time frame to that of standard open spinal fusion surgery, it’s really striking. Patients having a standard spinal fusion could take six months or longer for a full recovery.”
If you are experiencing back pain, determining which of these procedures is most appropriate for you begins with a comprehensive examination and diagnosis. To set up a time for a consultation, contact our lumbar spine surgeon in New Jersey today.