Saint Luke’s News: Forget what you’ve heard about back surgery then, here’s how it has evolved

December 6, 2019
Man holding back in pain


Just about everyone knows what it means to deal with low back pain at one point or another. Roughly eight out of 10 adults suffer from low back pain sometime in their lives, and it’s the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to a study in The Lancet medical journal.

When more conservative treatments—like physical and occupation therapy or epidural steroid injections—aren’t enough to treat chronic back pain, surgery may be the solution.

In the past, the words “back surgery” meant long recovery times and a higher chance of complications with traditional open procedures. But a lot has changed in the past decade with minimally invasive surgery.

“There are some big advantages when it comes to minimally invasive techniques,” said Cheerag Upadhyaya, MD, surgical director of Saint Luke’s Integrated Spine Program. “A few of those include faster recovery, smaller incisions, decreased rate of complications, less tissue trauma, and in the right hands, you’ll be in surgery for less time than a traditional open operation.”

Saint Luke’s Marion Bloch Neuroscience Institute has a team of seven highly-specialized neurosurgeons and the most experience with the latest minimally invasive spine surgeries in the Kansas City area.

“Saint Luke’s Integrated Spine Program is the only one in the region that is made up of all fellowship-trained neurosurgeons with 10 years of practical experience in minimally invasive approaches,” Dr. Upadhyaya said.

The most common spine surgeries that are now minimally invasive include: removing a herniated or degenerative disc in the lower spine (lumbar discectomy), removing a portion of the vertebra to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord or nerves (lumbar laminectomy), and fusing two or more vertebrae to reduce pain or correct deformity (single or double lumbar fusion).

These minimally invasive procedures require much smaller incisions, which in turn, means a faster recovery. Incisions for the lumbar discectomy and lumbar laminectomy are less than the width of a dime. An incision for the lumbar fusion is less than the width of a nickel. Specially trained surgeons can then split the muscle or ligament to get to the area they need to work on, rather than stripping the muscle off the spine.

Patients that undergo these advanced procedures not only have quicker recovery times in the end, but they are also able to go home sooner.

“These approaches have allowed us to move what was historically inpatient surgery to an outpatient surgery because of the scaled-down incision and tissue trauma,” Dr. Upadhyaya said.

Saint Luke’s experienced team continues to work to expand these minimally invasive techniques to more complex surgeries such as treating spinal deformity and removing tumors.

“That’s one of the advantages of having a decade of experience,” Dr. Upadhyaya said. “We are in a position to develop those skills even further and apply them to patients who need treatment for other issues… that’s where experience is huge.”

Saint Luke’s Hospital is one of several leading neurosurgical groups participating in the Quality Outcomes Database (QOD), a national clinical registry sponsored by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. The purpose and objective of the registry is to assess the benefit spine surgery may provide to patients and to evaluate to what extent surgery improves pain, disability, and quality of life.

Learn more about spine surgery and Saint Luke’s Integrated Spine Program or call 816-932-6770.

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