May 27, 2024 New Hope for Back Pain

surgeon performing unilateral biportal endoscopy

An “ultra-minimally invasive” surgery treats common degenerative spine conditions.

Back pain is both extremely common and often challenging to treat. Now an innovative endoscopic spine surgery available through RWJBarnabas Health offers new hope for patients with degenerative spine conditions. Called unilateral biportal endoscopy (UBE), the advanced procedure is performed by only a handful of surgeons in the Northeast. It allows patients who may not be helped by first-line conservative treatments such as physical therapy, muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory medications and cortisone injections to finally find relief from pain.

John Shin, MD
John Shin, MD

Normally, if conservative treatments fail, patients with degenerative spine conditions undergo traditional open surgery, says John Shin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Jersey City Medical Center (JCMC) and Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center, and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group.

UBE provides an alternative with a number of important advantages. “The UBE approach is ultra-minimally invasive,” Dr. Shin says. “As a result, patients have much less pain, less blood loss and a very minimal risk of surgical site infection. They can get back to doing what they love to do faster.”

Pioneering Care

The procedure was perfected in East Asia and was first used by East Coast surgeons in 2022. Dr. Shin received UBE training from specialists at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital and also spent a month in South Korea, where he learned UBE techniques alongside the procedure’s pioneers. He was the first in New Jersey to perform the procedure, in December at JCMC.

During a UBE operation, surgeons make two tiny incisions. They then insert a high-definition endoscope (a small tube with a light and camera) through one incision and guide surgical instruments through the other. The endoscope provides a clear, magnified view of the spine and neural elements, which enhances accuracy and precision.

Degenerative conditions that UBE can treat include:

  • Herniated disks, in which rubbery tissue between vertebrae in the spine slips out of place and puts pressure on nerves
  • Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal
  • Spondylolisthesis, a condition in which a vertebra moves out of position

“I believe UBE will be the standard of care for these conditions within the next five to 10 years,” Dr. Shin says. “Back pain can be very debilitating and can restrict one’s ability to do everyday activities without pain—and the ability to simply enjoy life,” continues Dr. Shin. “Endoscopic spine surgery is a new option for patients who may not be candidates for traditional open spine surgery, helping relieve their pain, regain their mobility and improve their quality of life.”

Learn more about spine care at RWJBarnabas Health.