Back Surgery Made Safer

December 23rd, 2015
Surgical Relief from Back Pain Made Safer

Today’s back pain may be tolerable; then tomorrow comes and you are “down in the back.” Neurosurgery crosses your mind, but spine surgery sounds so scary, with a long road to recovery.
At the SIH Brain & Spine Institute, new image-guided 3D navigation technology is the latest extension of surgical services at Memorial Hospital of Carbondale. It allows for a safer spinal surgery and a faster road to recovery.

If you are thinking about neurosurgery, you want exceptionally trained physicians with extensive knowledge about anatomy and precision with the scalpel. Image-guided, 3D-technology is the extra safeguard tool to help doctors be even more precise.

“The technology actually allows us to pre-plan your surgery in a 3-dimensional virtual reality environment,” said Dr. Eugenio Vargas, neurosurgeon at SIH Medical Group. “It’s really similar to a sophisticated 3D GPS system.” It helps neurosurgeons know precisely where to make incisions and where to concentrate.

Benefits to image-guided spine surgery

According to Vargas, doctors utilize the technology in the operating room for real-time navigation. “When the patient is on the table, you register the patient with the pre-planned operation now in the system. It then knows the exact point in space where, for instance, a tumor is located. It even visualizes your instruments.” Before they even open the skin, neurosurgeons know where to make a precise incision.

A 25-year veteran neurosurgeon, Vargas has experienced this sophisticated evolution of spine surgery technology. “Before 3D navigation was available, we would rely on pre-surgery X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs to create an image in the surgeons mind as to what the patient’s anatomy looked like, as well as where and what the problem was. At the time of surgery, we relied on our knowledge of anatomy and the information obtained from the pre-surgery studies to perform the procedure.”

Vargas says that today, in addition to using their knowledge of anatomy, doctors use the 3D navigation to show them a computerized, virtual reality image of the patient’s anatomy and the problem that needs to be addressed. Without necessarily making big incisions, the surgeon can, through smaller incisions, get precisely down to where the problem is. That translates into a safer surgery.

For the patient, that means recovery time is usually reduced by one or two days, which can be significant. There’s also generally less pain.

When Back Pain is Too Much, Let Us Help You Decide What to Do

At the SIH Brain & Spine Institute, you will have the full gambit of specialists to help you feel better. Along the way other abnormalities of the spine may be discovered. They may or may not be what is producing the pain.

“We all have degenerative changes as we age, changes which most of the time don’t produce symptoms,” said Vargas. “Based on your specific symptoms, examinations and studies, the goal is to gather all the information, analyze it and determine where the pain is coming from.”

A diverse array of physician specialists (neurologists, pain management specialists, physician extenders, neurosurgeons) at SIH Brain & Spine Institute allows a team-approach to patient care. Together, they pool their knowledge and examine all the pieces of the puzzle. Then the plan of care is made.

Today’s back pain may simply require medication. The next time it may be a different problem and require physical therapy, injections or surgery.

“A good spine team like ours has different physicians, physical therapists, physician extenders, etc. all working your case together,” claims Vargas. “Seventy percent of patients may not need surgical care to relieve the pain.” Often it can be treated and made better without surgery.

Is it time for you to take action?

Contact the SIH Brain & Spine Institute
618.351.4972. Learn more.