Can Laser Spine Surgery Fix Your Back Pain?

Does the idea of stepping out of a surgery center pain-free, with only a small bandage on your back, sound appealing? It’s this image of a quick, easy cure that makes the idea of laser spine surgery so enticing to people with chronic back pain.

But if you are considering back surgery, you should know that while minimally invasive surgery using a laser is effective for some conditions, it isn’t a miracle cure, and it isn’t for everyone.

Michael Steinmetz, MD, Co-Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Spine Health, offers insight on several questions about this treatment.

How does laser surgery compare with other methods?

Laser spine surgery may seem like a newer technique, but it actually has been around for decades. And, interestingly, it may not always mean that the surgeon will use a laser, Dr. Steinmetz says.

In the traditional approach to spinal surgery, the surgeon’s incision goes through the skin to the muscle. To get to the tissue or other problem area, the surgeon dissects the muscles away from the spine. This can damage the surrounding soft tissue, causing pain, blood loss and longer hospital stay for recovery.

An alternative to traditional “open” spine surgery is a minimally invasive procedure. Here, the surgeon makes a smaller incision and uses a tool to tunnel to the site of the pain. Because the muscles aren’t pulled away, damage to the surrounding area is minimal and the recovery time is often shorter.

More recently, this procedure has typically been called laser surgery. But Dr. Steinmetz says that what you are probably getting is minimally invasive surgery. Your surgeon may or may not use a laser (as opposed to a scalpel or other microsurgical instruments) for this technique.