Think Laser Spine Surgery is the Answer?

Think Again …

March 3, 2016 — New Jersey Hills Media Group

lasersurgeryIf you or a loved one suffer from spine pain and you think laser spine surgery is the answer, beware. Laser spine surgery is shrouded in a cloud of marketing hype and false claims:

Claim No. 1: Laser spine surgery is non-invasive.

Truth: Like most spine surgeries, laser spine surgery requires an incision. The laser is simply a tool – albeit a controversial one – used once the incision is made.

Claim No. 2: Laser spine surgery is risk-free.

Truth: Serious complications often arise from laser spine surgery. Malpractice claims for one particular laser spine center are several times the rate of all US outpatient surgical centers. One case involved a patient who was left incontinent and with a dangerous spinal fluid leak that required a second surgery elsewhere.

Claim No. 3: Laser spine surgery is advanced technology.

Truth: Laser spine surgery is not high-tech – and it’s not new. It was introduced years ago in the 1970’s. Yet, it has never been studied in a controlled clinical trial. Actual patient cases indicate laser spine surgery often offers no real relief – and more problems.

Claim No. 4: Laser spine surgery is less expensive.

Truth: Laser spine surgery often costs $30,000, at least twice as much as most insurance companies will pay for laser-less procedures.

Here are more facts:

Laser spine surgery does not provide any clinical benefit over traditional, minimally invasive spine surgery.

Laser spine surgery poses unnecessary risks to the spinal cord, and patients have been damaged by this approach.

As a result, the vast majority of the neurosurgical spine community has not adopted laser spine surgery.

And here are a few reasons why:

Laser spine surgery is less precise than minimally invasive scalpel-based procedures. For a successful outcome, the surgeon must look around corners. Since a laser beam cannot bend, laser spine surgery prohibits the surgeon from delicately navigating angles.

Additionally, lasers destroy and cut tissue with heat that causes water molecules to boil and produce gas. This mixture of heat and gas can damage healthy nerves. A razor-sharp scalpel in the hands of a skilled surgeon does not risk thermal injury.

Then there’s the issue of depth of penetration. Think of holding a knife up to a balloon and pressing softly. You can feel the give and take of the pressure you are applying against the balloon and have a good idea of when that balloon will pop.

Using a scalpel, surgeons use this same tactile feedback to access the tissue and achieve the exact depth of penetration. A laser does not have that ability and can cut further down depending on how long the beam sits in one place. This places nerves and healthy tissue at risk of being injured.

If you are considering laser spine surgery, be sure to know the facts. Don’t get captivated by the marketing hype that’s out there. The buzzwords test well from a marketing standpoint, but the procedures don’t offer clinical benefit. Besides, do you really want a laser – often used to burn through thick metal – near your spinal cord?