Mayo Clinic: Effectiveness of Laser Spine Surgery for Pain Relief Remains Unproven

August 27, 2009
Aurora Sentinel

The purpose of spine surgery typically is to relieve pain and other symptoms by decreasing pressure on a compressed spinal nerve or by stabilizing the spine. Surgery may involve removing a herniated or damaged portion of a disk in the spine (discectomy); removing the back part of the bone that covers the spinal canal (laminectomy); removing bone spurs or other spinal growths; or connecting two or more of the vertebral bones in the spine (spinal fusion).

Traditionally, a small, high-speed air drill or a surgical instrument that’s heated with an electric current (electrocautery) is used to cut away the tissue and bone. During laser spine surgery, a focused beam of light (laser) is used to cut away tissue. Laser spine surgery is often promoted as being noninvasive and risk-free. However, these procedures require incisions and can result in serious complications.

Before deciding on the type of spine surgery to have, first, you should thoroughly investigate the need for surgery. Chronic neck and back pain has many possible causes. I’d strongly recommend that you do not proceed with any type of treatment until you see a medical spine specialist such as a neurologist to evaluate your symptoms and diagnose what’s causing them.

In some cases, a precise diagnosis can be difficult to determine. If you have pain that’s confined to your spine – it doesn’t radiate to your hands, arms, feet or legs – and magnetic resonance imaging or another imaging test doesn’t reveal a specific diagnosis, you may want to consult a specialist in a pain clinic.

Pain specialists can use diagnostic injections to pinpoint the problem area. One difficulty in diagnosing spine problems is that the spine has many moving parts that are potential pain generators – for example, disks, facet joints, nerve roots, the spinal cord and muscles. By systematically injecting these structures one by one with anesthetic agents, the anatomic source of the pain often can usually be determined. More…