What is Spinal Cord Surgery?
Spinal cord surgery is a complex medical procedure performed to treat a variety of conditions affecting the spine and discs. During the surgery, a surgeon may perform a range of different interventions, such as a discectomy, spinal decompression, and spinal fusion.
The purpose of these interventions is to realign the spinal cord, reduce pressure on the discs and nerves, and promote healing. The potential benefits of spinal cord surgery include improved mobility, improved functioning of the muscles and nerves, and decreased pain.
Overview of Spinal Cord Surgery
During spinal cord surgery, the surgeon will make an incision in the back of the patient to access the spinal cord and its surrounding tissues. Depending on the nature of the condition being addressed, the surgeon may choose to use one or more of the following techniques:
- Discectomy: A discectomy is a surgical procedure that involves removing part or all of a ruptured or herniated disc, which may be impinging on the spinal cord or nerves. The goal is to relieve pressure thus alleviating pain and other symptoms.
- Spinal Decompression: Spinal decompression involves the use of instruments to separate adjacent vertebrae, clearing the spinal canal and increasing the available space in the spine.
- Spinal Fusion: Spinal fusion joins adjacent vertebrae with a metal plate and screws to stabilize the spine. This procedure is most commonly used to treat unstable fractures, degenerative disc disease, and spinal deformities.
Benefits of Spinal Cord Surgery
The primary benefit of spinal cord surgery is that it can help reduce pain and improve functionality. Additionally, in some cases, the surgery may halt the progression of a disease or deformity, helping to prevent it from becoming worse.
In addition to providing relief from pain, spinal cord surgery can often improve mobility. This is particularly the case with surgeries that involve decompressing the spine or relieving pressure on the nerve roots. The improved mobility can also contribute to an improved overall quality of life.
Expected Results from Spinal Cord Surgery
The results following a spinal cord surgery vary depending on what kind of procedure is being performed. Generally speaking, the expected results are improved functioning of the muscles and nerves, improved mobility, and decreased pain.
In some cases, the patient’s symptoms may not be completely resolved after the surgery. In such cases, it’s important to consult your doctor about any additional treatments that may be necessary.
For example, in the case of spine fusion surgery, some patients may need to receive physical therapy to help improve their mobility and functioning. Additionally, some patients may require ongoing medications to manage any residual symptoms.
Spinal cord surgery is a complex medical procedure intended to realign the spinal cord, reduce pressure on the discs and nerves, and promote healing. The potential benefits of this surgery include improved mobility, improved functioning of the muscles and nerves, and decreased pain. It is important to note, however, that the expected results will vary depending on the type of surgery performed and the severity of the patient’s condition.
Definition & Overview
Spinal cord surgery refers to any procedure performed either on or near the spinal cord. There are many types of surgery on the spinal cord, each one with a different intended function, but when combined, they make up more than 50% of all neurological surgeries performed. They are either decompressive or reconstructive and used to treat different disorders of the spinal cord as well as diseases involving the pelvic and thoracic region, and other spinal cord injuries.
Who should undergo and expected results
Spinal cord surgery is recommended for patients who are suffering from:
- Inborn spinal defect
- Spinal cord damage due to an accident
- Cervical herniated disk
- Lumbar disc disease
- Craniocervical junction anomalies
- Spinal fractures
- Spinal cord tumors
- Spinal cord injuries
- Spinal stenosis
How the procedure works
All the different types of spinal cord surgeries are broken down into two main categories – minimally invasive surgery and major (or more) invasive surgery.
Minimally invasive spine surgeries are microscope-assisted, allowing surgeons to perform the surgery without making a large incision. These typically use an intraoperative CT scanner navigation system. The techniques used in minimally invasive spinal cord surgery are usually used for discectomy, laminectomy, spinal instrumentation, and fusion procedures.
Major spinal cord surgeries, on the other hand, are often reserved for specific conditions, such as adult scoliosis, severe spinal deformities, and serious trauma-related injuries. This kind of surgery receives special focus from neurosurgeons because of their extensive nature. They also usually take a long time to complete because, in most cases, multiple sites on the spinal cord need to be corrected. The same techniques used in other neurosurgical and orthopaedic surgeries such as those performed for trauma and tumors are used in spinal deformities surgery.
Possible risks and complications
The following are the possible complications of a spinal cord surgery:
- Blood clot
- Lung problems – Lung and breathing problems may be caused by the anesthesia or any medications used during the procedure.
- Hardware fracture – Some problems may be caused by the metal screws, rods, and plates that are often used to keep the vertebrae in position while the surgery is being done; these problems are often due to misplacement of the hardware before the recovery period ends, and they usually require another surgery to be fixed.
- Infection – Infection is a common risk for any surgery that requires an incision.
- Spinal cord injury – The nerves of the spinal cord may suffer damage during the procedure, which can lead to paralysis.
- Implant migration – Implants used in the surgery may also move from their position before the healing process is complete.
- Pain – Unsuccessful surgeries may not completely eliminate spinal pain. Sometimes, surgery may even result in even worse pain than before the surgery has been performed.
- Sexual dysfunction – The spinal cord and the nerves associated with it are the body parts responsible for carrying nerve signals that allow the other parts of the body to work properly. Damage to the spinal cord can lead to certain dysfunctions such as sexual dysfunction, especially if the damage is near the pelvic area.
- Deep vein thrombosis – This is the occurrence of blood clots in the veins of the legs or calf; this tends to occur more when the surgery is performed near the pelvis as the body attempts to stop the bleeding during the surgery.
Pulmonary embolism – This is a serious life-threatening condition that can develop from a blood clot problem.
Chou R, Loeser JD, Owens DK, Rosenquist RW, et al; American Pain Society Low Back Pain Guideline Panel. Interventional therapies, surgery, and interdisciplinary rehabilitation for low back pain: an evidence-based clinical practice guideline from the American Pain Society. Spine. 2009;34(10):1066-77.
Chou R, Qaseem A, et al. Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain: a joint clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society. Ann Intern Med. 2007;147(7):478-491.