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Risks of Laser Spine Surgery

By Linda Ray ; Updated July 18, 2017

Since the 1980s, laser spine surgery has been touted by many as the safest, most effective noninvasive means of operating on the spine. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic report that the procedure has never been studied in a controlled, blind research trial, allowing for no scientific proof of its efficacy. They continue to report that most surgeons do not use laser spine surgery because there are no clear benefits over traditional spine surgical techniques. Those who do perform the operation warn patients of inherent risks of laser spine surgery, however.

Infection

As with any surgery, patients receiving laser spine surgery run the risks of infection at the site of the incision. Proponents of the procedure claim that the risks are reduced compared to open back procedure because the incision is much smaller. Risks can be especially high for wound and spinal infections because the procedure is performed on an outpatient basis, many times in treatment rooms versus antiseptic operating facilities.

Mistakes

Consultants at Spine Surgery report there is a high risk of patients having to undergo additional spine surgeries to repair damage that was not treated in a laser surgery. Endoscopic spine surgery leaves patients especially vulnerable to repeat open surgeries. Though lasers usually are tested for accuracy, any amount of deviance from proper placement of the laser can result in additional complications that could leave patients in worse condition than before they underwent the laser procedure. Laser malfunctions are a common cause for concern when patients consider the risks of laser surgery on the spine. Doctors at Atlantic Spinal Care report that because laser surgery is so highly specialized and requires intensive training, patients do run the risk of being treated by an insufficiently trained provider who could cause damage by tearing the spinal cord membrane or damaging the nerves.

Back Pain

Doctors at the West Texas Spine Center have been performing laser spine surgery since 2004, reporting great success with the procedure. They do, however, warn patients that laser spine surgery carries most of the same risks as traditional open spine operations. Patients may leave the operation with continued or additional pain and need to go through more surgeries. There is an inherent risk of spinal fluid leakage, numbness and spinal instability. Bleeding also can be a risk when undergoing laser or any other spine surgery. By using technologically advanced laser equipment, there is no option for cutting through the bone if necessary during the surgery. Lasers only cut through tissue.

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