We mentioned foot doctors and anesthesiologists earlier in connection with laser spine surgery because basically any kind of licensed physician, no matter how general-practice or specialized they are, can perform laser procedures on your spine. At the state level, a board of medicine investigates complaints and verifies licensing for the medical practice, but national regulators such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration do not have oversight over types of surgeries, only the devices and medicines doctors use [sources: Aetna; Armstrong].
As highlighted in a 2011 Bloomberg.com exposé on outpatient spine clinics, medical personnel performing laser surgeries can be from any medical field, whether related to spinal treatment or not. This same investigation also questioned the high rate of laser spinal treatment malpractice claims found in public insurance records and the effectiveness of the procedures themselves [source: Armstrong].
But back pain is unquestionably agonizing and life changing and many who experience the daily discomfort search and consult with doctors and find no measure of long-term relief. And businesses that provide laser spine surgery offer hope to those who can't find help. Many people pay tens of thousands of dollars -- often out of pocket -- for outpatient surgeries that may or may not even be necessary to address their problems. Insurers have not reached a consensus in covering laser spinal procedures; some cover all but the laser portion, others cover some of the laser techniques and a number won't cover any of the costs.
And laser surgery success rates vary about as much as the insurance companies' willingness to cover it. Some patients may find initial success only to experience a regression not long after. Others may even come out of the procedure in worse shape and with new ailments or internal injuries. But there are those who find relief and walk away pain free and are more than willing to recommend the surgery.
If there is one consensus regarding laser spinal surgery, it's this: Major medical overseers are not promoting or advancing the use of lasers for necessary spine surgeries. If most chronic back pain does not require surgical treatment, as supported by the NIH, why are outpatient back surgeries proving so popular among patients?
Whether or not it's simply marketing, a quick-fix for pain or a combination of both, starting with a trusted doctor's consult or some fact-finding with a physician's teaching hospital may provide answers and alternatives worth trying before getting burned.
More back issue links follow.
- Aetna. "Clinical Policy Bulletin: Back Pain -- Invasive Procedures." July 27, 2011. (Sept. 30, 2011) http://www.aetna.com/cpb/medical/data/1_99/0016.html
- Armstrong, David. "Laser Spine Surgery More Profitable Than Google Sees Complaints." Bloomberg.com. May 4, 2011. (Sept. 28, 2011) http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-04/laser-spine-surgery-more-profitable-than-google-sees-surge-in-complaints.html
- Choy, DS. "History of Lasers in Medicine." NIH.gov. June 1998. (Sept. 29, 2011) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3046050
- Deen, H. Gordon. "Effectiveness of Laser Spine Surgery for Pain Relief Remains Unproven." MayoClinic.org. June 26, 2009. (Sept. 28, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.org/medical-edge-newspaper-2009/june-26a.html
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease (NIAMS), National Institutes of Health. "Handout on Health: Back Pain." NIH.org. July 2010. (Sept. 30, 2011) http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Back_Pain/default.asp
- University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC). "Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery." UCHospitals.edu. 2011. (Sept. 30, 2011) http://www.uchospitals.edu/specialties/minisurgery/spine/
- University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). "Neck Pain and Sciatica: Surgery and Invasive Procedures." UMM.edu. 2011. (Sept. 30, 2011) http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/what_general_approach_severe_chronic_low_back_pain_000054_8.htm