Patients with back pain usually experience either acute or chronic pain. Acute back pain is most common and typically lasts about six weeks or less, while chronic pain is more rare and usually persists for six months or more. Someone with acute pain has usually experienced a fall, sports injury or car accident, for instance, while those with chronic pain may not be able to connect their discomfort with a single impact or cause [source: NIH].
Treatment for acute pain includes rest, physical therapy and pain relievers, but often acute pain will resolve over time and most often surgery is not needed or recommended. Some people with chronic back pain, however, will be good candidates for minimally invasive surgeries for disk decompression or repair and can have an outpatient procedure with a healing time of days or several weeks. But the vast majority of people don't require surgery [source: NIH].
Chronic cases where a spinal fusion is advised -- such as in the case of spondylolisthesis, a condition where the vertebrae slips out of place -- often require traditional surgery with a large incision, a resetting of the spine and a fusing of bone alongside the repair to keep it immobile. Patients requiring fusion are typically not candidates for minimally invasive surgeries or outpatient procedures. Their conditions often involve more than a single incision site, or vertebrae needing attention, and incisions likely will be 4 to 6 inches (10.16 to 15.24 centimeters) long. A hospital stay of about a week and a long healing time of a month to a year or more will follow.
So how does laser spine surgery tweak the spine, and does it ease the pain? We'll cut into that, next.