Vail Daily health column: Helpful innovations in spine care |

Vail Daily health column: Helpful innovations in spine care

Not long ago, spine surgery was uncommon and offered limited options for meaningful healing. Now, more than 600,000 people have spine surgery each year in the United States for a variety of spinal problems. Fortunately for patients with spinal disorders, spine surgery continues to evolve and improve. Advancements in minimally invasive surgery have provided significant gains allowing patients to recover more quickly with greater safety, and success.

Here is a look at some commonly asked questions and answers regarding minimally invasive spine surgery.

Vail Daily: What is minimally invasive spine surgery?

Greg Poulter: Minimally invasive spine surgery does not correspond to any one particular surgery but refers to a surgical philosophy and the techniques that have been developed with this philosophy in mind. The idea behind minimally invasive spine surgery is to perform a surgery with the least amount of disruption to surrounding tissues as is possible while providing a procedure that is just as safe and effective as one performed with a traditional approach. Why make an incision any larger than what is needed to perform a procedure safely and effectively? Minimally invasive surgery was made possible by the advent of technologies that allow us to access the spine and hold tissues out of the way without having to damage them. As these technologies have been refined over the years, minimally invasive spine surgery has become more commonplace.

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VD: What types of spine surgery can be performed with a minimally invasive technique?

GP: Minimally invasive techniques have been developed to replace most of the traditional spine surgeries. Microdiscectomies, laminectomies and fusions are commonly performed as minimally invasive surgeries. There are advanced techniques for scoliosis and fracture surgery as well. This is not a complete list. In general, spine surgery has advanced greatly in the past 10 years. Much of the improvement has come from minimizing the disruption of surgery.

VD: Can all spine surgeries be performed with a minimally invasive technique?

GP: The first priority should be that a patient has a safe and effective procedure. Every consideration should be made to minimize the impact of a surgery and reduce complications. Often this includes the use of newer minimally invasive techniques. While most common conditions can be effectively cared for with minimally invasive surgery, there are times when the nature of the problem warrants a more traditional larger incision.

VD: Do all spine surgeons perform minimally invasive spine surgery?

GP: Minimally invasive techniques are new to spine surgery, and there are many surgeons who completed their training prior to the advent of these procedures. As a result, the field of spine surgery is in transition with some surgeons being very comfortable offering these techniques while others have yet to include them in their practice.

VD: Is minimally invasive spine surgery better than traditional surgery?

GP: As mentioned before, minimally invasive spine surgery is not one technique but a variety of techniques. However, in general it has been demonstrated that post-operative pain and time for recovery is reduced by minimally invasive techniques. For spinal fusions, minimally invasive surgery has shown to decrease the risk of infection and other complications while providing the same or better success rate for the fusion. For these reasons, minimally invasive techniques are considered an advancement in spine surgery.

VD: How do I know if a surgeon is trained in minimally invasive surgery?

GP: This is difficult. At this time, there is no specific training or certification in minimally invasive spine surgery. You can research surgeons in your area that offer these techniques. If you visit with one, ask them about the techniques they offer and their comfort level performing them.

Dr. Greg Poulter was the first in the nation to perform a minimally invasive spine fusion. As a spine specialist with Vail-Summit Orthopaedics, he provides complete spine care for both children and adults, offering the most current minimally-invasive and fusion-sparing techniques. Visit to learn more.

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