By Jahna Jacobson
Minimally Invasive Spinal Fusion Surgery means Less Pain, Faster Recovery
Spinal fusion surgery for damaged discs has traditionally meant long incisions and long recovery time.
 But a new procedure at Sacred Heart Hospital means patients can be pain-free in days instead of weeks, and put an end to chronic back problems.
Dr. Barry Lurate, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon at Sacred Heart Hospital, is the first physician in Northwest Florida to offer minimally invasive spinal surgery as an alternative to traditional fusion procedures.
The procedure, known as axial lumbar interbody fusion, or AxiaLF, is performed through small, 1-inch incisions in the lower back, as compared with a 5- to 6-inch incision used in the traditional surgery.
And while traditional surgery often required two to four days of hospitalization and two to six months of recovery at home, AxiaLF patients are virtually pain-free within 24 hours and require only an overnight hospital stay.
 “Spine surgery represents some of the most complex and challenging surgery for both surgeon and patient,” said Dr. Lurate. “The AxiaLF technique represents a significant advance in spine surgery, and it provides an elegant way to solve specific disabling back problems.”
For seniors, the shorter recovery time is a definite advantage.
“If they have no additional risk factors, it’s a good option for them,” said Dr. Lurate.
“Over the years we have come to realize that a patient lingering in the hospital is not a good thing,” he said. “The longer you are in the hospital, the greater the chance of additional complication increases.”
Because of the short recovery time, the minimally invasive surgery can cut those risks.
“If we can get them out of the hospital and repaired early, that is extremely beneficial,” he said. “And even more so for the elderly patient who may be at greater risk for infections. They are less likely to occur if they can get out early.”
The surgery can also increase the patient’s ability to live independently, he added.
Navarre resident Leandra Skinner said the procedure changed her life.
“Before the surgery, I couldn’t do anything, even walking, without constant pain,” said Skinner. “After the surgery, I was back to work in a week, and after a few months I could actually bend over and touch the floor – something I never could have done before.”
“I had chronic back pain for over three years, but I was scared of having back surgery,” said Skinner. “Now I feel so great that I wish I had done it sooner.”
In the past, traditional surgery and recovery could be as problematic to the patient as the original complaint. Surgeons risked damaging the back and spine by retracting and stripping the muscles and ligaments from the spine and by cauterizing blood vessels. While minimally invasive procedures were available, they were not always as effective as their traditional counterparts. Now, the new AxiaLF procedure provides as much relief as conventional surgery, but without the damage to the muscles and supporting structures of the spine, shortening the recovery time.
During the procedure, a small catheter is inserted into the spinal column at the tailbone and follows the natural contours of the spine to reach the damaged discs. Once at the site, the center of the diseased disc is removed and bone growth material is inserted in its place. Over time, the vertebrae fuse.
While the minimally invasive surgery can be a good option, Dr. Lurate warns that is cannot be used for every patient or for every problem.
One concern for any older patients with spinal problems is the strength of the bone, said Dr. Lurate. People with weakened bones or bones that have lost density are going to find that their treatment options are more limited.
“It affects your approach to the problem, and you have to vary your technique,” Dr. Lurate said.
For more information on minimally invasive spinal fusion surgery and other orthopedic services offered at Sacred Heart, please call (850) 416-1600 or visit our Web site at