Thomas H. Maugh II, L.A. Times

Minimally invasive surgery has been a boon for patients over the last 20 years, minimizing hospital stays, speeding recovery and reducing the cosmetic consequences of operations. But new evidence suggests the surgeons who perform the procedures are developing a new group of aches, pains and medical complications from them, according to Dr. Adrian E. Park of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Because surgeons performing laparoscopic surgery deal with limited degrees of movement over longer procedure times and the need to constantly view a video screen, added strain is placed on the neck, shoulders and arms. To explore problems associated with the surgery, Park sent out a 23-question survey to 2,000 board-certified gastrointestinal and endoscopic surgeons in North America and abroad.

Of the 317 surgeons who returned the survey, 272 said they suffered physical discomfort or symptoms they attributed to the surgery, he reported in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. The problems ranged from eye strain and neck, back and leg pain to headaches, finger calluses, disc problems, shoulder muscle spasm and carpal tunnel syndrome. The number of surgeries performed each year was a key predictor of risk, with caseloads higher than 150 to 200 presenting the most problems.

To minimize problems, 84 percent said they had changed their position while operating, while 30 percent said they changed instruments or took a break. However, 40 percent said they just ignored any problems.

Park said the instrument industry needs to integrate technology and improve instruments to minimize problems. “If injuries among surgeons are not addressed significantly, we're going to face a problem in the near future of a shortage of surgeons as well as shortened career longevity among surgeons who enter, or are already in, the field.”

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