Technological advancements in the treatment of spinal conditions are developing at a faster rate than ever before. As a result, patients with serious spinal conditions are beginning to benefit from less invasive procedures, preserved spinal mobility, faster recovery times, and less postoperative pain. 

Notable advancements in spinal treatment include:

Minimally-Invasive XLIF Surgery

Though XLIF surgery has been around since the early 2000s, it represents a significant advancement in technology for spinal disorder patients.

Additionally, with the invention of new spinal implants and devices, XLIF surgery continues to evolve as a minimally-invasive procedure for conditions such as spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and slipped disc, among others.

What Does XLIF Involve?

XLIF stands for extreme lateral interbody fusion. Instead of accessing the spine from the back or front of the body, which is conventional, XLIF involves accessing the spine from the side of the body. 

By reaching the spine through an incision in the patient’s side, XLIF prevents the need to cut through the major muscles in the back. Additionally, this procedure doesn’t require the extractions of any ligaments or bones in the spine. 

The steps of XLIF include:

  1. Taking x-rays and marking the skin to specify the location of the affected disc. 
  2. Creating an incision in the patient’s flank. 
  3. Moving the peritoneum, which is the sac that lines the exterior of the abdominal organs, away from the abdominal wall. 
  4. Creating another incision in the side of the body, positioning a dilator inside of the incision and directly above the intervertebral disc. 
  5. Using a probe to set apart the psoas muscle and placing a retractor to access the spine. 
  6. Removing the interior of the spinal disc in what’s known as a discectomy.  
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The Benefits of XLIF

XLIF is a breakthrough procedure for patients with spinal conditions because it facilitated treatment with:

  • Less postoperative pain
  • Less blood loss
  • Less time spent in surgery
  • Less time spent at the hospital
  • A quicker recovery time
  • The ability to walk on the same day as the procedure

Stem Cell Therapy

Stem cell therapy is an emerging regenerative treatment. While more clinical research is still required to establish the safety and efficacy of stem cell therapy, it’s now commonly used for certain spinal conditions, including degenerative disc disease and slipped discs. 

How Do Stem Cells Work For Damaged Spinal Discs?

Stem cells can develop into other cells with distinct functions, such as muscle cells and brain cells. In stem cell therapy, stem cells taken from the patient or a donor are directed at damaged tissue. Over time, the stem cells stimulate the body’s process of tissue regeneration. 

Both degenerative disc disease and herniated disc are spinal disorders involving a damaged intervertebral disc. The stem cells are precisely injected into the area of the spine with the affected disc. Then, in the months following the treatment, the body will work to heal the damaged tissue. 

Stem cell therapy is a minimally-invasive treatment that can provide relief from back pain and stiffness. However, as we previously mentioned, there’s still a long road ahead for stem cell therapy to become a widely-used treatment for all types of spinal disorders. 

Non-Fusion Spinal Implants

Emerging non-fusion spine surgery implants provide patients with a treatment solution that prevents spinal instability without the downsides of fusion. As spinal fusion alternatives, spine devices can reduce back surgery recovery time while offering relief from conditions including slipped disc, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis. 

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The Downsides of Spinal Fusion

In spinal fusion, the surgeon positions bone graft material in between the affected vertebrae using a cage, screws, and rods. As time passes after the fusion procedure, the bone graft material causes the vertebrae to fuse into one bone. 

By obstructing motion in the fused vertebrae, spinal fusion prevents damage caused by instability. However, fusion has notable downsides, including:

  • Extended hospital stay

When compared to decompression with non-fusion spinal implants, fusion requires more time spent in the hospital. Patients may need to stay in the hospital for up to four days after fusion. 

  • Lengthy recovery period

Spinal fusion requires a significant recovery period. Patients with sedentary occupations may require four to six weeks to go back to work. For patients with more active professions, it can take three months or even longer to return to work.

In contrast, patients who undergo decompression surgery with a non-fusion implant can often regain their full range of motion immediately after the procedure. While these patients will still need time to recover from the procedure, they’ll be subject to far fewer restrictions than fusion patients. 

  • Limited mobility

Possibly the largest downside of spinal fusion surgery is limited back mobility. When the vertebrae are fused, patients lose the ability to bend that portion of the spine. Depending on the exact procedure, patients may not be able to bend forward and will require special tools to retrieve items from the floor. 

  • Risk of adjacent segment disease 

Adjacent segment disease, or ASD, is a possible complication of spinal fusion. It occurs as a result of increased impact on the spinal segments surrounding the fused vertebrae. The segments deteriorate at a faster rate, which can lead to back pain, radiating pain, neurological symptoms, and reduced range of motion.   

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How Do Non-Fusion Spinal Implants Work?

Non-fusion spinal implants stabilize the spine to prevent future injury without limiting the motion of the back. So, the implant is anchored directly to the spine for strength and stability. However, it moves with the spine, allowing the patient to bend, twist, and flex. With spinal fusion, these motions may not be possible.

The TOPS™ System, for example, is a mechanical device that replaces spinal structures that are removed in decompression surgery. It’s positioned between two titanium plates and enables axial rotation, lateral bending, flexion, and extension. 

Technological advancements have vastly improved outcomes for spinal disorder patients. Talk to your doctor to learn more about the full scope of treatment options available to you.

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