What is Minimally Invasive Scoliosis Surgery?

In recent months, I have had the incredible opportunity to travel around the world training colleagues on the techniques involving and presenting the merits of minimally invasive spine surgery. It truly has become a passion of mine. One of my greatest joys is seeing patients in clinic after surgery and listening to the absolute thrill in their voices when they tell me of the things they’re able to accomplish with their bodies once again (or for the first time in some cases) after surgery. Perhaps nowhere in my practice is this more evident than with patients who have undergone minimally invasive scoliosis deformity correction.
Modern Operating RoomHistorically, a surgery that was incredibly invasive just a few decades ago – with a large volume of blood loss, long stays in the Intensive Care Unit and extensive recovery periods – today it has changed considerably. Surgeons around the world are performing deformity correction surgery using minimally invasive principles that result in resolution of the condition, less operative risks, fewer complications and faster healing.

With scoliosis deformity correction specifically, a direct lateral approach is taken to the spine through very small incisions – usually only one inch in length on the side of the abdomen to start. Through these small incisions, the spine is carefully accessed and the intervertebral discs involved are removed. A spacer is placed in the disc space at each spinal level involved, to correct the tilting of the discs caused by the scoliosis and to restore them to their original height.

In the next phase of minimally invasive scoliosis deformity correction, a combination of hardware (screws and rods) is used to stabilize and fuse the disc space in order to provide a solid and strong base for the spine. Another series of small incisions is made in the back used to place the screws and hand-steer the rod into them, all while leaving the spinal muscles intact. This process is designed to correct the rotation in the curve caused by the scoliosis and to provide spinal stability.

The recovery process for minimally invasive scoliosis surgery is different for every patient. While some take more time to heal than others, many patients are often able to return to full activity in six weeks. A strong focus on following your physician’s after-care instructions as well as a concerted effort at physical therapy often help make the recovery period shorter for many patients.

Though most people who have scoliosis will never need surgery to correct it, the ability to provide a less invasive option to those who do need it is revolutionary. And while I am happy to ease the fears of those who come to me desperate for help after trying everything else to correct the issue, it makes me wonder, if more people knew there was a less invasive option to correct their deformity, maybe they wouldn’t suffer through it for longer than they need to. I’ve counseled countless patients now who wish they had made the decision to correct their scoliosis sooner, but they were scared of what they thought they knew to be true about surgery. While surgery is serious and comes with risks (no matter the type of surgery involved), today’s minimally invasive options can often achieve the goals of correction with significantly minimized risks.