Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Spinal fusion reversal can ease pain, restore movement, says Dr.. Kenneth Light

San Francisco spine surgeon Dr. Kenneth Light has performed a new spinal fusion reversal procedure.

The "fusion reversal" relieved years of pain for "Bobbie Jo", a 40 year-old Santa Rosa, CA woman who had a cervical (neck) fusion performed years ago after suffering an injury.

Over 150,000 spinal fusions are performed in the U.S. each year to treat injuries or degenerative disease. Dr. Light says that is way too many. He says that the basic principal used in spinal fusions performed on the neck or back vertebrae hasn't changed since the 1890's. More importantly, the actual results of spinal fusion hasn't improved in 60 years, he says.

Until recently, the only course of treatment for many patients has been a spinal fusion procedure which is done to stabilize the spine and to prevent further damage to the injured area. However, spinal fusion has several disadvantages including a variable loss of range of movement in the treated areas and in many cases, recurring pain and further damage to the spine.

Dr. Light  says that fusions are appropriate in many cases, especially where no other treatment will help. "However, there are now alternatives that can help a person regain full movement and mobility, rather than having their vertebrae "frozen", which can lead to significant side effects including pain and increased stress to adjacent vertebrae. In some cases the fusion will heal in the wrong position, causing a tilting of the spine."

After examining Bobbie Jo, Dr. Light suggested that she consider another approach - total disc replacement using a device called the “ProDisc-C Implant”. Says Dr. Light, “Artificial disc replacement is an attempt to fix complicated neck and back problems, and this implant has been designed to maintain the physiological range of motion in the spine.  An added benefit is shortened recovery time for most patients. “I believe that artificial disc replacement will eventually replace 70% to 80% of all spinal fusion surgeries," says Dr. Light.  

X-rays show the patient's neck vertebrae fused and how the neck anatomy now appears, after the fusion reversal procedure. She now shows greatly improved range of movement than was possible with the fusion in place.  Dr. Light believes that many more physicians will soon consider alternatives to spinal fusion in order to give patients an improved quality of life.

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