The History of Minimally Invasive Spinal Surgery

Anyone who has ever had back pain before could know what it’s like to get to the point of needing to have minimally invasive spinal surgery. Unfortunately, humans have had back pain for centuries, and there have been historical records that show physicians have been trying to treat it for thousands of years. Spine surgeries weren’t as successful as they are today. Still, surgeons today have a better understanding of how to perform a minimally invasive spinal surgery with reduced recovery times, less discomfort, and better results. If you’re curious about the history of this procedure, read on.

The Ancient History of Minimally Invasive Spinal Surgery

Did you know that ancient civilizations studied orthopedic surgery, including forms of back surgery? It was very common for people to suffer from spinal injuries or fractures from construction accidents or if they fell off a horse. In several cases, people needed treatment due to ongoing back pain. The first known references to treating back pain came from the Egyptians.

The Smith Papyrus

You can find references to spinal disorders back in ancient Egypt if you look at the Smith Papyrus. This document dates back to 1650 B.C. It includes a host of observations used to determine if a person had a dislocated vertebra. The text points out that a fracture to the spine directly relates to loss of feeling in the arms or legs or total paralysis.


Hippocrates is referred to as the father of medicine, and he was born in 460 B.C. He lived in Egypt and worked as a physician. He studied warrior corpses who died in battle to gain his anatomy knowledge. His reports outline cases of fractures, scoliosis, dislocations, and sciatic pain. He blamed spine disorders on poor posture and developed the Hippocratic board and the Hippocratic ladder to help.


Galen was a surgeon and physician in the Roman Empire. He dedicated a large portion of his life to finding out how the body works. He correctly noted that the spinal column had 24 vertebrae in 200 A.D. He used animal experiments to study anatomy, and he worked as a doctor for gladiators.

The First Surgery on the Spine

You can trace spinal traction back to 3500 B.C. However, it’s widely accepted that laminectomy could be the first spinal surgery ever. This procedure removed part of your vertebrae to relieve pressure. The first laminectomy happened around 650 A.D. by Paul of Aegina.

The 1800s

Members of the medical world touted the laminectomy in the 16th century. However, no surgeon performed this minimally invasive spinal surgery until the 1800s. The laminectomy became the only surgical procedure to use to treat trauma or pain for more than 100 years. However, the early laminectomy surgery didn’t go well. It was common to have severe complications, and it had high mortality rates.

There were a few success stories. In 1829, a physician performed a laminectomy on a man who fell from a horse. The patient did regain some function. In 1839, Jules Guerin was the first to attempt spinal surgery on patients to correct scoliosis. This did end in a lawsuit. In 1885, Wilhelm Roentgen, a German physicist, created the x-ray. This gave doctors a better understanding of how the spine worked.

Early and Mid-1900s

This time period welcomed minimally invasive spinal surgery like none of the previous times did before. In 1922, a successful fusion surgery was done on a tuberculosis patient by Russell Hibbs. In 1932, Mixter and Barr did the first intentional discectomy on a patient. The laminectomy also grew in popularity once again.

Surgeons used microscopes to explore the spinal nerves, and John McCulloch was a huge name in microsurgery. Surgeons also gained the knowledge to reduce trauma to surrounding nerves and tissue, and this allowed incisions to shrink and get much more precise.

In 1973, the idea of endoscopic lumbar discectomy was introduced by Kambin and Savitz. Hijikata became the first surgeon in the world to remove a disc through a tube in 1975. In 1977, Isidor Isaac Rabi developed the MRI machine, and the first MRI was performed on a patient.

The 1990s to the 21st Century

Due to the development of endoscopic spine surgery and MRI technology, minimally invasive spinal surgery began replacing open spine surgery. This helped save patients from complications that came about with more broad procedures.

In 1990, the introduction of the laser revolutionized minimally invasive spinal surgery. Kambin used lasers to help destroy disc fragments. Today, this is rarely used except to remove tumors from the spinal column. Most surgeons don’t use them for precise operations because you don’t have the same level of control as you do with a scalpel.

Throughout the 1990s, a lot of surgeons did minimally invasive spinal surgery using a microscope. The 1990s was also when Destandau and Kevin Foley developed the tubular retractor system independently to limit how much damage the surrounding soft tissue took during surgery. Dr. Anthony Yeung developed an endoscope system in 1997 for spinal surgery, and his technique aimed to reduce soft tissue damage too.

Throughout history, surgeons contributed their knowledge and skills to help develop new ways to perform minimally invasive spinal surgery while giving the patient the least amount of pain. There are several techniques available today for this surgery, and many of them boast shorter recovery periods. Unlike the 1980s and 1990s, where a patient had a multi-day stay in the hospital after surgery, a lot of minimally invasive spinal surgery procedures are not outpatient.

Contact Florida Spine Associates for Information on Minimally Invasive Spinal Surgery in Florida

If you have back pain that won’t go away or it’s getting worse, you could require surgery. Our professional and dedicated staff are ready to answer any questions you have about this procedure and see if it’s the correct option for you. You can contact us today to set up a consultation.