Every month, the medical device industry introduces some innovations into the world of spine surgery that they are promoting as the next big thing. While I watch these trends closely, I take a conservative approach to using any new technology in my practice. I wait until an innovation is proven to be effective, safe and better for patients than classical approaches before I consider them.
Two major innovations in spine surgery over the last decade that meet my criteria are: minimally invasive surgeries and disc replacement. Both are commonly used and have a track record of providing benefits for suitable patients. I use both procedures in my practice after carefully screening patients to ensure that they’ll benefit from the new approach.
Understandably, patients have a lot of questions about spine surgery, and I’m happy to educate people about the goals and benefits of surgical options.
Let’s take a closer look at the two above innovations I use in my practice.
Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS)
Minimally invasive surgery is a general term for procedures that can be conducted through small incisions without much damage to surrounding tissues.
The benefits of minimally invasive procedures include: less blood loss, faster recovery and less pain. The classical approach to surgeries typically means a bigger incision, more loss of blood, more pain and a longer hospital stay.
Not all patients and conditions are good candidates for MIS, which makes careful screening important.
Disc replacement surgery is one alternative to the more traditional spinal fusion surgery. Instead of fusing vertebrae together and stopping the motion of the painful disc, we put in an artificial disc, similar to the idea of a hip or knee replacement.
Disc replacement preserves the motion of the spine, which research suggests may have some long-term benefits for patients by slowing down the progression of degeneration in the areas above and below the surgery. Studies are currently underway to determine whether disc replacement can truly delay the degeneration process as compared to spinal fusion.
Not every spinal fusion can be substituted by disc replacement surgery, and not every patient is a good candidate for it. It’s important for individuals experiencing back pain to be seen by a trusted orthopedic specialist to determine which of the different types of spine surgery is right for them.
Patients should keep in mind that a new option isn’t necessarily better than classic approaches just because it’s new. Any new technology must be thoroughly studied and have a proven track record of success before I consider it for my patients.