1st endoscopic spine surgery in New Jersey offers patients faster recovery

Two surgeons working and passing surgical equipment in the operating room hospital healthcare against the background of the spine X-rays

Dr. John Shin, an orthopedic spine surgeon with RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group, recently performed the state’s first unilateral biportal endoscopic spine surgery at Jersey City Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility.

Shin is also on staff at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, another RWJBarnabas Health facility.

The unilateral biportal endoscopy for lumbar spine offers new possibilities for adult patients suffering from degenerative spinal conditions, such as spinal stenosis, herniated discs and spondylolisthesis, a condition in which a vertebra moves out of place.

Through one small incision in the lower back, the surgeon inserts a high-definition endoscope, which provides a clear, magnified view of the spine and neural elements. This magnified view helps enhance accuracy and precision as the surgeon guides surgical instruments through another small incision in the back.

Because endoscopic spine surgery requires only small incisions, surgeons are able to preserve more of the native soft tissues of the back, including muscles and ligaments, resulting in reduced blood loss, a lower risk of infection, less pain and faster recoveries for patients than with traditional open spine surgery. Patients are usually able to leave the hospital within 24 hours, compared to a longer hospital stay for patients who have traditional open spine surgery.

“Back pain and leg pain can be very debilitating and can restrict one’s ability to do everyday activities without pain and their ability to simply enjoy life,” Shin said. “Endoscopic spine surgery is a new option for more frail patients who may not be ideal candidates for traditional open spine surgery, helping relieve their pain, regain their mobility and improve their quality of life.”

The procedure was pioneered by spine surgeons in East Asia and was introduced in the U.S. in 2019, but surgeons did not start using on the East Coast until 2022. Shin was trained in the procedure at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital in New York. Fluent in Korean, he also received additional training in South Korea from spine surgeons who are global leaders in using this technique. He is one of only a handful of surgeons in the Northeast to perform unilateral biportal endoscopic spine surgery.

“RWJBarnabas Health is committed to being on the forefront of orthopedic care with experienced surgeons who are leaders in their field,” Michael Prilutsky, executive vice president, RWJBarnabas Health, president, Northeast Region, and CEO and president of Jersey City Medical Center said. “By providing the latest technologies and procedures such as endoscopic spine surgery, we ensure that patients never have to leave New Jersey to get the highest level of orthopedic care.”