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An attempt at clinically defining and assessing minimally invasive surgery compared with traditional “open” spinal surgery

Paul C. McAfee, MD, MBA,1,2 Steven R. Garfin, MD,3 W. Blake Rodgers, MD,4 R. Todd Allen, MD,3 Frank Phillips, MD,5 Choll Kim, MD6
1Department of Spinal Reconstructive Surgery, St Joseph's Hospital, Baltimore, MD 2Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD 3Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of California, San Diego, CA 4Spine Midwest, Inc., Jefferson City, MO 5Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL 6Society of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery, Spine Institute of San Diego, Center for Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery, San Diego, CA



The goal of this editorial and literature review is to define the term “minimally invasive surgery” (MIS) as it relates to the spine and characterize methods of measuring parameters of a spine MIS technique.


This report is an analysis of 105,845 cases of spinal surgery in unmatched series and 95,161 cases in paired series of open compared with MIS procedures performed by the same surgeons to develop quantitative criteria to analyze the success of MIS.


A lower rate of deep infection proved to be a key differentiator of spinal MIS. In unmatched series the infection rate for 105,845 open traditional procedures ranged from 2.9% to 4.3%, whereas for MIS, the incidence of infection ranged from 0% to 0.22%. For matched paired series with the open and MIS procedures performed by the same surgeons, the rate of infection in open procedures ranged from 1.5% to 10%, but for spine MIS, the rate of deep infection was much lower, at 0% to 0.2%. The published ranges for open versus MIS infection rates do not overlap or even intersect, which is a clear indication of the superiority of MIS for one specific clinical outcome measure (MIS proves superior to open spine procedures in terms of lower infection rate).


It is difficult, if not impossible, to validate that an operative procedure is “less invasive” or “more minimally invasive” than traditional surgical procedures unless one can establish a commonly accepted definition of MIS. Once a consensus definition or precise definition of MIS is agreed upon, the comparison shows a higher infection rate with traditional spinal exposures versus MIS spine procedures.

MIS, Minimally invasive surgery, Infection
Volume 5 Issue 4