Many types of back injuries can be healed over time without the need for surgery. However, if the injury is particularly severe and debilitating, or if non-surgical treatments aren’t doing enough to promote healing, a surgical procedure may still be your best option for returning to a normal life.
Back surgery can take many forms, depending on where the injury lies, the source of the pain and the severity of the injury itself. Some procedures may be minimally invasive (meaning only a small incision is needed and the surgery may be done on an outpatient basis). Others are more significant and risky and may require a hospital stay and longer recovery time. In most cases, back procedures serve one of three purposes:
- Decompression: Relieving pressure on the nerves that may be causing the pain;
- Stabilization: Restoring stability to the spinal column to encourage healing and prevent further damage; and/or
- Reconstruction: Replacing damaged discs or tissue with other materials to relieve pain while keeping the spinal column intact.
Depending on the source and nature of your injury, your surgeon may recommend one or more specific procedures to correct the problem, as well as offering some options for how the surgery will be performed. Let’s look at 6 common surgical options for fixing severe back injuries.
This decompression surgery is primarily used to treat spinal stenosis — a narrowing of the spinal column that places undue pressure on the spinal cord. This surgery involves removing some or all of the lamina (the bony structure on the vertebra acting as a “roof” over the spine) which gives the nerves more space. The surgeon may need to remove the lamina on more than one vertebra depending on how many parts of the spine are compressed.
Another decompression procedure, this surgery effectively widens one or more openings (foramina) by which the nerve roots exit the spine. Occasionally bony growths can occur at these openings, narrowing the passageway and pressing against the nerves. Removing these growths alleviates the undue pressure, and therefore the pain.
3. Lumbar Microdiscectomy
This minimally invasive procedure can alleviate pain and pressure associated with a herniated disc. Your vertebrae are separated and cushioned by soft discs that serve as shock absorbers for your spinal column. If the covering of the disc is injured or becomes brittle with age, the jelly-like material inside may shift toward it, causing a bulge that puts pressure on the spinal nerves. It may also rupture completely, sending the jelly substance out from the disk where it puts even more pressure on the nerves. (This is a common cause of sciatica, in which shooting pain occurs from the lower back down the leg.) In a lumbar microdiscectomy, rather than removing the entire disc, the surgeon goes in and removes the portion of the disc that is pressing against the nerves.
4. Spinal Fusion
Sometimes, the best solution to alleviating pain and preventing further injury is to fuse two or more vertebrae together so they no longer move against each other. During spinal fusion surgery, the surgeon removes a portion of bone from the affected area, stabilizes the area with metal implants and screws, and inserts a bone graft between the vertebrae. Over time, this bone graft fuses the two vertebrae together so they effectively form a single bone.
5. Lumbar Interbody Fusion
Another type of fusion procedure, this surgery removes a portion of the posterior bone or a degenerated disc from the injured part of the lower back. Depending on the nature of the injury, the surgeon may enter from the front of the abdomen (anterior) or from the back (posterior). The affected tissue or bone is removed, the spine is stabilized with implants and bone graft replaces the removed tissue.
6. Robotic Spine Surgery
While not a specific type of surgical procedure, this medical advance gives patients a fantastic new option for how certain surgeries are performed (e.g., spinal fusion and implants). Robotically-assisted surgery can be used for a variety of minimally invasive procedures; it is exponentially more accurate than the surgeon’s hand alone, allows for smaller incisions, reduces the risk of infection, reduces radiation exposure and promotes faster recovery times. Polaris is the only spinal clinic in the Southeast (and second in the nation) to utilize ExcelsiusGPS, an extremely advanced robotic system utilizing GPS technology to assist in minimally invasive procedures. Talk to your doctor to determine whether you may be a candidate for this exciting new surgical option.
At Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center, we treat surgery as a last resort after other treatment options have been exhausted. For severe back injuries, however, the right surgical procedure can relieve pain, restore mobility and help you resume a normal life. When surgery is called for, we go the extra mile to ensure the procedure is performed with as little intrusion and risk as possible — and with the highest levels of accuracy. This is why we are so pleased to include robotic spine surgery among our options for treatment. To learn more about your surgical options, call us for an appointment at 404-256-2633.