Spine Surgery. Reinvented.
By Dr. Alexandre Rasouli, M.D.
The story is an all too familiar one. A patient will undergo fusion surgery for collapsed discs either in the neck or the back. It involves placing a bone spacer between the vertebra or spinal bones and then holding them there with metal plates, screws, or rods. Eventually the two bones “fuse” together. Patients feel fine for some time. But then… the pain comes back. What has happened is that now the disc above or below the fusion has collapsed, from all the extra stress the original fusion has created. More surgery.
Fusion surgeries have their limited place, but for most issues in the spine that require surgery, there has to be something better. That is why for the vast majority of my patients who are candidates, I have started to use artificial disk replacements. In both the cervical and lumbar spine (neck and back), these FDA-approved devices can restore the spacing between spinal bones, free the entrapped nerves, and restore function— all without the negative effects of fusion. They are a more natural and physiologic solution to the common problem of collapsed discs and pinched nerves. Patients do not lose any motion, do not have to wait months to recover, and can resume activities usually in a matter of days. The surgeries are also often less than an hour long and can be done as “same day” procedures.
We are currently in the process of designing clinical trials to expand the application of disk replacement technologies to patients who suffer from multiple collapsed disks. I am very encouraged by some of the initial results.
Insurance companies have been a little slow to grant approval for artificial disk replacements but many are beginning to see the benefits that these procedures offer patients, both in terms of outcome and cost. In an era where the value of care is as important as outcome, the artificial disk replacement is reinventing the way we help our patients.