How treatment for back problems will never be the same

Today’s surgical world is advancing at a breathtaking speed, quickly leaving behind invasive surgeries with long recoveries in favor of minimally invasive options. Back surgery is one such surgical field.

Traditionally, when spinal discs degenerated or were damaged to a certain level of severity, spinal fusion was the procedure of choice. Spinal fusion is when two or more vertebrae of the spine are joined together, such that there is no longer any motion between them. In the procedure, bone grafts are placed around the spine, and over time, the grafts heal, joining the targeted vertebrae.

Spinal fusion is still the best option in some cases. Fractured vertebra, deformity, severe pain, instability and some herniations can all be treated with spinal fusion, though each person should be carefully diagnosed to determine the best treatment option.

However, when pain is the main issue being treated, spinal fusion may be the wrong choice. Back pain from spinal issues is very common, but there is disagreement about when to use spinal fusion for back pain. A common problem surgeons and physicians face is determining the source of the back pain. Problems in the spine can present pain elsewhere, meaning it is sometimes incorrect to treat the area the patient indicates is causing pain. Spinal fusion for spinal pain is therefore considered a last resort by many medical professionals.

Furthermore, according to Anthony T. Yeung, a spinal surgeon who practices minimally invasive and endoscopic techniques, spinal fusion can lead to future problems, namely:

Deterioration in adjacent levels of the spine can accelerate.
Motion becomes limited.
Yeung argues that altering a patient’s non-painful anatomy is not needed, except for severe deformity or instability. He also says spinal fusion for pain is not needed for long-term clinical success.

Advancements in spine surgery will allow for stabilization, but will also preserve motion, Yeung writes. Already, endoscopic procedures for back pain and herniation issues have dramatically improved the patient experience.

The SMART Clinic

Because minimally invasive back surgery is a relatively new field, it is important to find a surgeon who is correctly and adequately trained. It takes years of training and experience to know how to perform endoscopic surgery well. The SMART Clinic has surgeons who’ve committed more than 15 years to the endoscopic technique, who therefore have the requisite experience. The clinic physicians routinely provide education and preceptorship programs in conjunction with the newly opened Lone Peak Surgical Center, located in the Salt Lake City/Draper region of Utah.

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Scott Adelman

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