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Minimally invasive spine surgeries allow for quicker, easier recovery

Monday, November 20, 2023 10:21 AM

By NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health

Physicians at NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health are working to ensure patients have an easier time with spine surgeries.

“Over the last 25 years, we’ve particularly been looking for less invasive ways of doing the same operation. So instead of a larger, open incision there are cases where we can do the operation through an endoscope or a series of small metal dilators,” said G. Alexander Jones, MD, system medical director of neurosurgery at the Edward Neuroscience Institute, part of NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health. Dr. Jones was trained at the Cleveland Clinic with a fellowship in complex spine surgery.

Minimally invasive surgery could mean taking a three-inch incision down to a three-quarters inch incision, Dr. Jones said, making for a quicker, easier recovery time.

“Our focus in spine surgery is to treat patients with the least invasive operation that’s going to give them durable benefit,” he said. “There’s also really a focus on functional restoration, restoration of quality of life, physical activities and a return to normal life after surgery.”

Spine doctor with patient

Most of Dr. Jones’ practice involves minimally invasive and complex spine surgeries.

“There are a couple of new technologies at the hospitals that are coming online. Edward and Elmhurst just made a purchase order for the latest imaging technology for the operating room,” he said. “It’s a 3D C-arm. A C-arm is basically a mobile X-ray unit we use in the operating room. These new ones will allow us, instead of taking plain X-rays, to take 3D images of the spine before and during surgery. The benefit there is that it helps us do operations that are more accurate, gentler and safer.”

An example of new technology is carbon fiber pedicle screws. “When I remove a tumor, I sometimes have to de-stabilize the spine as part of the tumor removal. To make sure the spine is stable again, I put in screws and rods,” Dr. Jones said.

“Conventional instrumentation is either made out of titanium alloy or cobalt chrome. Because those are metal, they can block the transmission of the radiation beams afterwards so the radiation oncologist has to plan around that. They can create an artifact on CT scans and MRI scans which distorts the image there locally.

The carbon fiber screws cause much less distortion on the scans and the radiation beams can pass through the carbon fiber components. It’s an equally strong construct. Carbon fiber is what they’re building all the race cars and airplane wings out of these days. It truly is space-age technology. It allows us to treat these patients more safely and effectively,” he added.

The need has risen because of a push for more effective cancer treatments, he said. Patients have a much better survival rate with appropriate therapy.

Most of his spine surgeries can be divided into three broad categories: injuries to the spine, cancer and osteoarthritis.

“Age-related changes are a really common part of what we treat,” Dr. Jones said.

There are procedures like kyphoplasty, which is injecting cement into a compression fracture like an osteoporotic fracture that older patients tend to get. “It’s a short outpatient procedure. I also do a fair number of minimally invasive micro-discectomies,” he said. “They’re all same-day operations. Patients come in early … and are typically home by lunchtime.”

NorthShore Neurological Institute’s neuroscience experts provide world-class care for diseases, disorders and injuries of the brain, spinal cord and nervous system. Learn more.