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Major advancements in spinal surgery

October 8, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Technology has advanced so much in spine surgery. Soon doctors won't need to open up the back to perform complicated procedures. Even someone with severe scoliosis can get treated through tiny incisions. Susan Messmer, 57, is walking tall three months after a new kind of minimally invasive procedure. She went from this 30 degree S curve to a perfectly straight spine.

"She had a lump in her lower back and her shoulders were twisted," said spine surgeon, Dr. John Regan.

The only way she could teach her kindergarten class was to head straight home, lie in bed and load up on pain killers.

"I really think I lost a lot of my cognition because of the drugs. I really didn't want to live my life that way," said Messmer.

Traditional open back surgery would require a 14 inch incision in her back and 8 inch incision on her side. She avoided that by undergoing direct lateral inter-body fusion or D-LIF.

"We would place a probe that would go down into the disc," said Dr. Regan.

Dr. Regan was able to rebuild her spine through several tiny incisions. A succession of metal tubes separate the muscle and make room for the retractor.

"So we create this tunnel and the we work through a microscope here," said Dr. Regan.

Diseased disk is replaced with metal cage blocks filled with bone material. Doctors stack the cages filled with bone material to straighten the spine. Later titanium rods are added for support.

Working through tiny incisions, the procedure can take six to eight hours, but for the patient it the recovery time is better.

"It means a shorter recovery," said Dr. Regan.

Like any back procedure, complications can include nerve damage and infection, but Dr. Regan says the chances of this with D-LIF are lot less.

Susan says her back pain has improved a lot and she's looking forward to getting better everyday.

"I'm walking now and dressing myself," said Messmer.

D-LIF procedure is offered by Medtronic. It's been available for about 1 to 2 years.

Dr. Regan says in order to get the best possible outcome, try to find a surgeon who's done quite a few of these procedures.

 

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