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What Is Endoscopic Spine Surgery?

Endoscopic spine surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that may help correct your spine issues and relieve your back pain. During this surgery, we use small tools, tiny incisions (cuts), and a camera called an endoscope to see your vertebrae and surgically correct your spine problems.

Why Choose University of Utah Health?

At U of U Health, our multidisciplinary spine team performs a high volume of minimally invasive spine surgeries each year, which ensures lower risks and more successful outcomes. We are the only spine surgeons who perform endoscopic spine surgery in Utah. Our highly trained spine specialists also teach this surgical technique to other surgeons across the globe. 

Best Candidates for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

The best candidates for endoscopic spine surgery are those with simple structural spine issues such as spinal stenosis or a herniated disk. Endoscopic surgery is a good treatment option for people who are more likely to experience complications from more invasive spine procedures.

You may be at risk for complications from open spine surgery, if you:

  • are over the age of 65.
  • have a high BMI (body mass index).
  • have an underlying health condition, such as a bleeding disorder or organ failure.
  • have a higher risk of infection due to a weakened immune system. 

Risks & Benefits of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

Due to its noninvasive nature, the benefits of endoscopic spine surgery include:

  • less blood loss,
  • less infection risk,
  • shorter hospital stay,
  • quicker recovery time, and
  • less reliance on pain medication. 

Complications from endoscopic spine surgery are rare. While less common, risks of endoscopic spine surgery are similar to those of more complex spinal procedures. They include:

  • injury to the nerve root;
  • leaking of spinal fluid, which may cause post-op headaches;
  • blood clots;
  • allergic reactions or complications from anesthesia; and
  • infection. 

Find a Spine Surgeon

What to Expect during Endoscopic Spine Surgery

How to Prepare

If you are scheduled for endoscopic spine surgery, our care team will guide you in preparing for the procedure. An anesthesiologist will ask you questions to evaluate the right amount of anesthesia you’ll need during surgery. Your spine surgeon may also order blood work or other preoperative tests depending on any underlying health conditions you may have. You may also need approval from your other providers before moving forward with endoscopic spine surgery. 

To prepare for surgery, you will need to: 

  • maintain a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet.
  • minimize the use of narcotics (painkillers). 
  • temporarily wean yourself off of blood thinners or blood pressure medication.
  • avoid eating after midnight the day before surgery. 

Endoscopic Spine Surgery Procedure

During the procedure, your spine surgeon will use a series of tubes and an endoscope (small camera) to access your spine through a small, 7-millimeter incision. The camera allows our surgeons to see your spine from both 15-degree and 30-degree angles. This angled vision helps our surgeons operate around tight corners and spaces, which can't be done with traditional open surgery. Depending on your condition, your surgeon may remove the herniated portion of your spinal disk or take pressure off of your nerves without disrupting the surrounding tissues.

Endoscopic Spine Surgery Recovery

Patients tend to recover much quicker after undergoing endoscopic spine surgery compared to more invasive procedures.

After surgery, your surgeon will advise you to do the following.

  • Avoid showering until the day after your surgery.
  • Avoid baths for a month because soaking your incision in water may increase your chances of infection.
  • Avoid lifting heavy objects for a month.
  • Use ice, heat, or anti-inflammatory medicine for mild pain relief.

In rare cases, your surgeon may temporarily prescribe narcotic pain medication. 

Signs of Healing

During your recovery, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • return of sensations as previously numb areas begin to normalize,
  • muscle twitching, or
  • restless legs.

These symptoms are a normal part of your recovery and not a cause for concern. If you experience intense pain at the incision site or develop fever and chills, contact our team immediately.

Return to Activity

You should be able to return to work within a few days. If your job is labor-intensive, you may need to take a month off from work until you make a full recovery.  

Follow-Up Care

You will have a follow-up appointment with your surgeon six weeks after surgery. We may schedule you for another follow-up up to six months post-op depending on your recovery progress. Most patients don’t need to attend physical therapy after surgery. In rare circumstances, your surgeon may encourage you to see a physical therapist if you need to strengthen your back or learn how to walk again.

Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery Success Rate

Endoscopic spine surgery has a high success rate. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of our patients report less pain and better mobility after surgery. Over time, you will be able to resume some activities you once had to skip out on due to your spinal condition.

Schedule a Spine Evaluation

Our spine specialists at U of U Health will help you determine if surgery is an appropriate treatment for your back issues. At your first evaluation, our specialists will ask you about your medical history and determine whether endoscopic spine surgery is the best treatment to correct your back pain. 

You will need a referral from your primary care provider or another specialist to make an appointment. Call 801-585-6065 to schedule your evaluation.

Meet Our Patient

Randy Oldham had major back surgery that hospitalized him for two nights. It took him a year and a half to fully come back. When he learned he once again faced back surgery this year following the return of severe pain in his spine, he was devastated and dreading a similar outcome. But this time, Randy turned to U of U Health for endoscopic spine surgery.

Read Randy's Story

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Hear From Our Specialists

What to Expect After Endoscopic Spine Surgery

Recent biomedical advancements now allow for certain spinal surgeries to be performed via a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure. For patients undergoing endoscopic spine surgery, Dr. Mark Mahan explains what to expect during your recovery—including recovery times of only a week or two.

Listen (7 min.)

Is Endoscopic Spine Surgery Right For You?

If you or a loved one are experiencing issues like spinal stenosis or an impacted disk, you may be considering spinal surgery. This may seem like a complicated operation with a very long recovery time, but recent advancements may make an outpatient endoscopic procedure an option for you. Dr. Mark Mahan explains how the procedure is different and whether or not you are a candidate.

Listen (12 min.)