Know Your Options: The Latest Technologies in Spine Surgery - Cutting-edge Back-Surgery Strategies and Technologies
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Know Your Options: The Latest Technologies in Spine Surgery

By Dr. Alok Sharan
Jul. 6, 2022

A growing number of spine surgeons are using minimally invasive methods and cutting edge back-surgery strategies and technologies to help patients recover faster and reduce complications after spine surgery.

Some of the new technologies that we are seeing include the use of robots for placement of screws, computer aided navigation, and many invasive surgical techniques. All of these new technologies has led to faster recoveries for patients and safety in the operating room.

These new technologies are leading to huge advantages for patients today. At this point now surgery can be planned, executed and validated before the patient even enters the operating room. This allows the surgeon to be even better prepared. As a result these new spinal fusion and surgical technologies has led to an incredible inflection point for the practice of spine surgery. The importance of this will continue growing and will be a crucial part of how spine surgeons operate.

Robotics and Navigation

Imagine driving to a new destination without a map. Imagine what it would be like if you never had GPS to help you navigate and you were told to go to a new location. Traditionally that’s what surgery has been. While the surgeon has to have a good command of anatomy there was no technology that would help a surgeon navigate while they are performing surgery.

The use of robots and navigation technology have transformed the way that surgery is performed today. Now there is technology in the operating room whereby a surgeon can create a plan on the computer screen. A robotic system attached to a robotic arm can follow a predetermined path, just like GPS, and place screws in a very careful and accurate manner.

Robotic technology has improved tremendously to the point where a robot can understand a patient’s anatomy in real time and allow for very accurate and specific navigation during surgery. This has made spine surgery tremendously safer.

Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are still in its infancy when it comes to spine surgery. There have been tremendous advancements in using this innovative technology and has led to recent advances in spine surgery.

“Artificial intelligence has tremendous potential in revolutionizing comprehensive spine care,” states a study. “Evidence-based, predictive analytics can help surgeons improve pre-operative patient selection, surgical indications, and individualized post-operative care. Robotic-assisted surgery, while still in early stages of development, has the potential to reduce surgeon fatigue and improve technical precision.”

It went on to state that AI can enhance the delivery of spinal care in several areas:

  • Pre-operative patient workup, patient selection, and outcome prediction.
  • Quality and reproducibility of spine research.
  • Perioperative surgical assistance and data-tracking optimization.
  • Intra-operative surgical performance.

Augmented Reality and Enhanced Imaging

The advancements in augmented reality (AR) are revolutionary. Utilizing a portable headset, AR technology expands the capabilities of a multi-million dollar operating room to any operating room across the globe. Today your doctor can be wearing a futuristic high-tech digital helmet that provides the full capabilities of the most advanced operating rooms.

At Johns Hopkins Medical Center, neurosurgeons performed the institution’s first-ever AR surgeries as recent as 2020 and 2021. During the first procedure, physicians placed six screws in a patient’s spine for spinal fusion surgery to fuse three vertebrae to relieve the patient’s chronic, debilitating back pain. For the second surgery, surgeons removed a cancerous tumor known as a chordoma from the spine of a patient. The doctors reported that both patients were doing well.

Spine surgery is being transformed by augmented reality (AR) technology. A number of AR systems are on the market today and can be purchased for a fraction of the cost and can eliminate the time-consuming setup of robots. These AR systems are using hologram-like reconstructions of the body, whereby they are able to provide real-time and three-dimensional (3D) guidance and feedback.

Endoscopic Technology

Endoscopic techniques — cameras that are able to inspect inside the body without performing what is considered to be a traditional “major surgery” — are becoming more popular as a result of recent technological advancements and a shift from the inpatient to outpatient setting. Many studies have demonstrated that endoscopy reduces post-operative pain and accelerates healing.

This type of surgery is not a specific procedure. Instead, patients are subjected to a platform that facilitates optimal visualization to access the spine while offsetting damage to surrounding healthy tissue. Step by step and over many years, surgeons are starting to demonstrate small but valuable benefits over traditional approaches using endoscopic tools and strategies.

“Several extrinsic forces and trends are likely to lead to growing interest in endoscopic spine surgery,” states a research study by The Spine Journal. “First, health care systems globally continue to move toward value-based care programs that financially favor lower costs. Additionally, patients have increased access to information about procedural options, and endoscopic spine solutions have direct-to-consumer appeal for patients exploring potential spine surgery. In terms of supportive technology, there has been tremendous advancement in navigation and automation tools that can assist surgeons in overcoming the challenges of anatomic localization inherent to less invasive techniques.”

The study also adds: “While the extent of endoscopic spine growth is uncertain, consideration of these factors and their associated system dynamics makes it hard to imagine a future state where spinal endoscopy does not occupy a recognizable portion of the standard spine surgical armamentarium.”

There is no doubt endoscopic spine surgery is becoming a global sensation. Endoscopic techniques and the number of surgeons utilizing them are on the rise every year. More often than not, patients are amazed at their recovery and often telling their friends and family about their positive experiences.

Awake Spinal Fusion represents the next advancement in spine surgery.  By eliminating the need for general anesthesia and instead using newer techniques of local and regional anesthesia, Awake Spine Surgery leads to a faster recovery.  In the past many patients would stay in the hospital for 2-3 days after spinal fusion surgery.  With Awake Spinal Fusion patients will often leave the same day and be off of any pain meds after 3-5 days.  From beginning to end the Awake Spinal Fusion procedure changes the experience of spine surgery.

Contact Awake Spinal Fusion to find out more.