Lasers can treat some patients, but only for certain conditions. Experts rarely recommend using a laser for people with degenerative spine disease, for instance. Here’s how it stacks up against other methods.
Traditional surgery. In the traditional “open” approach, the surgeon’s incision goes through the skin to the muscle. Then, the surgeon dissects the muscles away from the spine so that he or she has a clear pathway to work on the spine. While this has advantages for accessing problem areas, it also poses a risk of damaging the surrounding soft tissue, which can lead to longer hospital stays.
Minimally invasive surgery. The surgeon makes a smaller incision than the one used for a traditional procedure. He or she uses a tool to tunnel to the site of the pain. Because the muscles aren’t elevated from the spine, there is less pain after surgery and the recovery time is often shorter, allowing people to return to their day-to-day activities more readily.
Laser surgery. Surgeons use lasers to remove portions of soft tissue that can compress nerves, such as ligament enlargement or herniated discs. However, lasers are only appropriate for certain conditions. They can help surgeons remove either tumors from the spinal cord or bone and soft tissue from around a nerve. Lasers may also be best for shrinking disc material around a nerve.