At the UPMC Department of Neurosurgery, spine specialists employ minimally invasive techniques and state-of-the-art technologies to treat a range of spine conditions. McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine affiliated faculty member David Okonkwo, MD, PhD, assistant professor with the Department of Neurological Surgery/University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, director of Neurotrauma and of the Spinal Deformity Program, clinical director of the Brain Trauma Research Center, and most recently, the associate director of the Center for Injury Research and Control, is teamed with Adam Kanter, MD, the neurosurgeon at UPMC pioneering the minimally invasive technique in Pittsburgh.
Normal spinal surgery involves making multiple incisions, and the operation moves through a larger muscular area. Bone areas have to be removed, and there can be more than a liter of blood loss, said Dr. Kanter to Sanjena Sathian of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. With the new technique, which approaches the spine with a "lateral" incision from the patient's side below the ribs, patients lose about 2 percent of that amount. Patients do not have rods placed along their spine, and they don't wear a brace afterward.
Dr. Okonkwo said the new approach changes the way he can treat patients over the age of 70 who have scoliosis. For older patients, "it's a completely different sport," he said, explaining that elderly patients may already have medical problems and can't always risk going through a complicated medical procedure.
"There's no substitute for youth. A 20-year-old who gets a major operation is far more likely to go through without major problems than an 80-year-old," he said.
Minimally invasive spine surgery utilizes advanced techniques and technology to treat a patient's spinal condition without causing undue injury to the surrounding soft tissues. Computer-assisted technology (such as computer navigation and nerve monitoring) and highly specialized tools and instrumentation provide exceptional visualization and control during these procedures.
Advantages of minimally invasive spinal surgery include:
- Smaller surgical incisions
- Less soft tissue damage
- Reduced blood loss
- Less post-operative pain
- Quicker recovery
- Less scarring
- Improved function
UPMC's minimally invasive spine surgery specialists are part of a multidisciplinary team that evaluates each patient to help determine the most appropriate intervention. Surgery is recommended only after more conservative medical approaches have failed to provide adequate results for patients seeking pain relief, increased mobility, and improved quality of life.