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Endoscopic Spine Surgery, or ESS for short, is a cutting-edge approach to spine surgery that, when compared to minimally invasive spine surgery (MIS), and “traditional” open spine surgery, often results in fewer scars, less time on the operating table, and a less intense recovery period. 

Wondering if ESS is right for you? Contact Dr. Baig here at Desert Spine and Scoliosis Center today; it’s important to remember that even though ESS is minimally invasive, it is still surgery, and you should consider all your treatment options carefully before consenting to a treatment plan.

With that said, let’s talk a little more about this ultra-minimally invasive spinal procedure, including what it is, what it isn’t, and how to know if you’re a candidate.

What Endoscopic Spine Surgery Is And Isn’t

Endoscopic spine surgery is sometimes also called endoscopic spinal surgery or endoscopic cervical spine surgery. It is often abbreviated “ESS”.

What ESS Is

  • A relatively new surgical procedure that, as our above-referenced resource “Specializing in Endoscopic Cervical Spine Surgery in Arizona” notes, is “a revolutionary development in the field of spine surgery, allowing major spinal surgical procedures to be done through very small incisions with reduced pain, risk, and recovery time.” 
  • ULTRA minimally invasive spine surgery
  • A procedure that may be substituted for other, more invasive procedures, in some (but not all) patients and spinal issues requiring surgery
  • A procedure that may help with spine-related conditions such as:
    • Degenerative disc disease
    • Herniated discs
    • Scoliosis and other spinal deformities
    • Lumbar spinal stenosis
    • Vertebral compression fractures and other spine trauma
    • Spinal instability
    • Infections or tumors of the spine


Endoscopic Spine Surgery vs. GI Endoscopies

When you think of the root word in the phrase “endoscopic spine surgery”, your mind may immediately jump to the word “endoscopy”. 

Endoscopies, in the traditional sense of the word, are gastrointestinal procedures. Endoscopic spine surgery(ESS)  is VERY different from GI endoscopy. The ONLY commonality between these two medical procedures is that they both make use of an endoscope.

  • The fact is, a wide range of medical procedures use endoscopes, from endoscopic spine surgery to colonoscopy to upper and lower GI endoscopy and laryngoscopy. 
  • To put it plainly, NONE of these procedures are the same. ESS is a type of spinal endoscopic procedure. 
  • ESS, in fact, is a type of spinal surgery. — While it may be understandable to think of ESS as a “spine endoscopy” this is simply not a medically accurate way to think about this ultra-minimally invasive type of spinal surgery. In fact, “spine endoscopy” is a non-sequitur…there is no such thing

ESS vs. Open Spine Surgery

Blurred photo for background.Surgeon performs endoscopic microdiscectomy of herniated intervertebral disc. Doctor in blue gown doing lumbar puncture inside orthopedic operating room.

ESS is just one of many spinal surgery types. So, what is involved with endoscopic surgery of the spine? It may help you to understand the difference between ESS vs one of the other most common types of spine surgery — open spine surgery:

  • ESS is minimally invasive & requires smaller incisions than open spine surgery.
  • Compared to open spine surgery, ESS minimizes disruption to the surrounding muscles and tissues since it involves smaller incisions and gentle dilation of tissues rather than cutting through them. This results in less trauma to the muscles, reduced blood loss, and potentially less postoperative pain.
  • ESS provides excellent visualization of the surgical site through the endoscope’s camera, allowing the surgeon to navigate with precision.
  • ESS is associated with shorter hospital stays and quicker recovery times compared to open spine surgery.
  • ESS leaves minimal scarring because of the small incisions, making it a cosmetically favorable option when compared to open spine surgery. In fact, according to Jared Bilski (2023), “The incision size…is basically the size of the endoscopic camera, working portals or instruments being used. For comparison purposes, consider the following: ‘A traditional open procedure for single-level lumbar decompressive surgery may be two inches or 50mm — an MIS tubular portal may be as wide as 22mm’…‘Endoscopic working portals may be on average between 10-13mm in size.’”
  • Unlike open spine surgery, in many instances of ESS, because of the use of an endoscope, which allows the Doctor to view problem areas, there is no need to disrupt the patient’s anatomy whatsoever or remove any bones.
  • If you are a candidate for ESS, we can operate with pinpoint precision to treat the affected area, and potentially help you avoid the need for future treatment.
    • For instance, let’s say you have a herniated disc. We may be able to perform ESS on that without removing the lamina bone (which must be done with traditional surgery). In the absence of removing bones, there’s no future risk of instability, and this may mean no future treatment needs.

Consult With Dr. Rafath Baig Today

Not everyone is a candidate for endoscopic spine surgery. And even if you are, there is a chance that other courses of treatment, such as physical therapy or spinal injections may be worth trying first. 

Every patient has different needs and issues. Therefore we encourage you to discuss your situation with Dr. Baig today to begin the process of determining the best treatment plan for your unique needs and individual condition.

Ready to improve your quality of life? Contact us now; we’re here to help.