4 Things You May Not Know About Spine Surgery

Recently, the amount of information regarding Spinal Surgery has been increasing exponentially.  However, with so much information available, it is often hard to get the facts about Spinal Surgery and separate the myths from the facts.  Below, Board Certified Neurosurgeon and Spine Specialist, Dr. Anthony Virella, discusses 4 things patients should know before considering Spinal Surgery.

1.  Not Everyone is a Candidate for Spinal Surgery
It is estimated that almost 80% of adults will experience back or neck pain at some point in their lives.  This pain can last for a few days to several weeks and limit activity and range of motion.  Fortunately, most pain subsides within a few days with some anti-inflammatory medication and rest.  However, even for those who suffer from chronic back or neck pain, only 5% will require surgery to correct the issue.  Surgery should only be considered if the pain does not subside with rest or conservative therapies, such as physical therapy or therapeutic injections.

For the 5% who may need Spinal Surgery…

2.  Most Spinal Surgeries Only Require A Very Small Incision
Innovative new technology now allows for Spinal Surgery to be performed through small incisions (1-3cm) in what is known as a Minimally Invasive fashion.  With this Minimally Invasive approach, small surgical instruments and a tiny camera are slipped between tissue and muscle fibers to access the spine.  Once these instruments have been inserted, the surgeon will use real-time imaging, known as fluoroscopy, to navigate the structures of the spine and remove herniated portions of the spinal discs or bone spurs causing nerve irritation. Once the procedure is completed, only small stitches and a bandage is required.  This approach also exponentially reduces the recovery period as the dissection and destruction of muscle and tissue is avoided.  This approach also significantly reduces scarring and minimizes blood loss during surgery.

In years past, surgeons were required to make a large incision (5-8 inches) along the spine in an effort generate visual access to the spine.  In the process, the muscle, tissue, and bone surrounding the spine were often cut or burned.  This approach caused significant post-operative pain and necessitated multiple nights stay in hospitals and an extensive post-operative recovery profiles.

3.  Many Patients Can Return Home The Same Day
As a result of the surgical advancements above, many spinal procedures can be carried out as an outpatient procedure.  This is a remarkable advancement in surgical care as most patients stayed multiple days in a hospital after surgery. Patients who undergo Minimally Invasive Procedures are able to walk immediately after surgery without the pain they have been suffering for years.  Patients are evaluated after surgery and once they are comfortable, they can be discharged and are free to recuperate in the comfort of their own home.

The ability to return home also has post-operative benefits with regard to infection rates.  1 in 25 patients who stay in a hospital post-surgery will acquire an infection(1), which can lead to substantial complications as well as the need for further surgery.

4. Not All Spinal Surgeries Require Spinal Fusion
Many of those with chronic spinal pain have been told they will require a Spinal Fusion Procedure to correct their condition, which is enough to make them forego treatment altogether.  Patients often relate stories of a friend or family member who has undergone a Spinal Fusion and had limited range of motion or other limitations after surgery.  Although Spinal Fusion Procedures have improved in years past, not all patients need to undergo this procedure.

Alternatively, a new Minimally Invasive Procedure- known as a Microdiscectomy, has allowed patients to maintain healthy, active and pain-free lifestyles without the need for the fusing of the spine.  Unlike a Spinal Fusion, a Microdiscectomy removes only the herniated portion of the spinal disc (instead of the entire spinal disc) which is causing nerve irritation.  By only removing the offending portion of the disc, the structure and integrity of the spine can be maintained without implants or screws.  The Microdiscectomy Procedure offers incredible relief for patients suffering from conditions such as disc herniations and Sciatica.

It is important to consult with a Spine Expert to determine which treatment is best for you, as each patient and their condition are different.

Dr. Anthony Virella is a Board-Certified, Fellowship trained Neurological Spine Surgeon with advanced training in the management of complex spinal disorders. He attended medical school at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and is a graduate of the UCLA Neurosurgery Residency Program. Dr. Virella completed his complex spine in-folding resident fellowship at the world renowned Cleveland Clinic Foundation with Dr. Edward C. Benzel, M.D. Additional work included a second fellowship in Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery at the UCLA Comprehensive Spine Center. Dr. Virella is a nationally recognized specialist in the field of complex and Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery and has offices located in Westlake Village and Valencia.   If you, or someone you love, is suffering from persistent neck or back pain, call us at 805.449.0088 to schedule an appointment.