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DR. KESTNER: Alternatives to disc surgery growing in popularity

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Not too long ago, if a patient had a herniated spinal disc severely pinching a nerve, the only treatment option would have been spinal surgery.

Because of the very nature of spinal surgery, this procedure has many shortcomings.

In order to even approach a damaged disc or vertebrae surgically, it is necessary to cut through layers of healthy tissue, risking scarring and adhesions that can affect the patient for years to come.

Spinal surgery has often meant weeks of recovery and time lost from work.

In an effort to diminish the long recovery time of spinal surgery, many surgeons have begun to use minimally invasive spinal surgery procedures.

In minimally invasive spinal surgeries, a smaller incision is made and damaged disc material can be removed using instruments such as an endoscope. Recovery time from this type of surgery is much shorter than more involved methods.

However, not all surgical cases can be treated with the minimally invasive approach. Many spinal surgeries still involve profound cutting away of bony tissue, fusion, and in many cases, permanent placement of metal instruments attached to the spine.

In order to accomplish a fusion, either the surgeon must harvest bone tissue from the patient, which can comprise removing strips of bone from the pelvic bone, or use cadaver bone harvested from a deceased individual.

Unfortunately, many spinal surgeries require that metal implants and screws be permanently attached to the spinal bones. These implants are necessary to hold the bones in place while fusion occurs, but the use of these devices raises the cost and risks associated with the procedure.

Depending upon the procedure used and the overall health of the patient, the possibility of spending several weeks recovering results in several days of lost work time, only adding to the overall cost of the procedure.

Costs for spinal surgery ranges from a few thousand dollars for the simplest of procedures to more than $100,000 for surgeries involving multiple spinal levels.

As spinal surgeons will tell you, many spinal surgery patients face the risk of having to undergo future surgeries. I have consulted with patients that have had as many as seven spinal surgeries and still have pain.

Although spinal surgery has advanced significantly during the past two decades, the patient is usually best served if a more conservative approach is feasible.

New conservative treatments have also been developing during the past two decades. For serious cases of bulging, herniated or ruptured spinal discs, a treatment called non-surgical spinal disc decompression therapy offers a potential benefit.

Non-surgical spinal disc decompression, which is sometimes called intervertebral disc decompression, involves using a specially designed device that can target injured discs to reverse the compression process. By reversing the compression forces, this procedure creates a negative pressure within the disc.

This negative pressure created within the disc is intended to draw fluids into the injured area, helping it to heal and regain some of the height that has been lost as a result of degeneration. When spinal discs draw fluids into the center or nucleus of the disc, nutrients are taken in as well.

This method is usually scheduled in a series of treatments that might last up to 12 weeks, but may be as short as eight weeks.  

This whole process is intended to gradually reverse the compression process, relieving pressure on spinal nerve roots and relieving the pain and disability of disc injury and degeneration.

The non-surgical spinal disc decompression is very comfortable. Patients have even been known to fall asleep during the procedure. Obviously, for patients that are candidates for this therapy, this approach is very favorable compared to spinal surgery.

Although many patients would benefit from spinal disc decompression, not everyone with spinal disc injuries or degeneration is a candidate. Certain conditions, including cancer, spinal instability, certain types of previous surgery, pregnancy and infection, might exclude patients from being accepted for the therapy.  

So, it is important to remember every patient has to be evaluated individually.

The advent of spinal disc decompression therapy has been a great benefit for many patients already and will undoubtedly prove to be a welcome alternative to surgery for many more.
Read more from:
Health, Health Care, Living Well, Mark Kestner, Spinal Disc Decompression, Spinal Surgery, Voices
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