Is Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery Better?

Pioneering safer new techniques for back surgery

Backache affects nearly all of us, at one point or another, but some people have such terrible back pain that living a normal life is nearly impossible. Because the causes for back pain are wide and varied, spine specialists need to have an arsenal of different treatments. While it’s always best to start with noninvasive back pain treatments, such as physical therapy and medication, sometimes back surgery is the best solution. The good news is that recent technological advances have made spine surgery safer and easier to recover from for patients. "Whether it's minimally invasive surgery or the use of navigation or robotic surgery, we strive to apply these new technologies to patient care," says Yale Medicine orthopedic surgeon Peter Whang, MD, FACS. "One size doesn't fit all when it comes to the spine. We provide individualized care."  

Dr. Whang specializes in a new form of spine surgery: minimally invasive sacroiliac joint fusion. The sacroiliac joint, which is located between the sacrum bone at the base of the spine and the iliac bones in the pelvis, acts as a connection between the spine and hips—it provides stability and support that facilitates basic movement and walking. Childbirth, trauma and, simply, age can cause the sacroiliac joint to develop micromotion (tiny movements within the joint), which leads to pain.  

"With sacroiliac joint fusion, we're trying to stabilize the sacroiliac joint by placing implants across it," explains Whang. The procedure is minimally invasive. Because Dr. Whang is able to perform it using small incisions, patients experience less bleeding and scarring and quicker recovery times. The sacroiliac joint fusion surgery typically takes less than an hour and patients can usually go home the same day.  

Dr. Whang was involved in the creation of this form of sacroiliac joint fusion during a clinical trial. "In the future, we'll be able to apply such solutions to other conditions, such as degenerative disc disease or spinal cord injury,” says Dr. Whang.

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