Are Victims of Spinal Trauma Candidates for Minimally Invasive Surgery?

Man fallen off ladderSpinal trauma can occur for a number of reasons and is often the result on an injury "event" where serious spine damage occurs. Specific causes can range from a particularly painful fall, car accident, or sports injury (like diving into shallow water), to industrial accidents, gunshot wounds, assault, and other causes.

Because of the intensity and physical danger people often face when involved with events that cause spinal trauma, they can sometimes be led to believe that the only way to "fix" the injured spine is with a traditional, open, and very invasive approach.

In many cases, this simply isn't true. While some conditions may still require standard approaches to spinal surgery, many injuries can now be alleviated using minimally invasive methods.

Imaging tests are among the first and most important steps in assessing how much damage has been done to the spine after a traumatic injury has occurred. These may include one or a combination of the following:

  • Spine x-rays: May show fracture damage to the bones of the spine.
  • A CT scan or MRI of the spine: Shows the location, extent of damage, and can also reveal problems such as blood clots (hematomas).
  • A myelogram: This special x-ray of the spine after injection of dye may be necessary to further pinpoint damage in rare cases.

Once imaging tests are completed and the extent of damage is assessed, then the most appropriate course of treatment for the injury will be determined. Because spinal cord trauma is a medical emergency, it requires immediate treatment to reduce long-term damage to the spine. The time between the injury and treatment is a critical factor affecting the eventual outcome. For this reason, surgery might be necessary. Types of procedures can include those that remove fluid or tissue that is pressing on the spinal cord, removal of bone or disc fragments or other foreign objects, or procedures to stabilize fractured vertebrae (by fusing the bones or inserting hardware to hold them together), especially when the spine is rendered unstable by the trauma.

Among the most promising surgical advances to effectively treat many cases of spinal trauma is the minimally invasive approach. This approach allows surgeons to accurately treat spinal trauma by accessing the affected part of the spine utilizing small skin incisions, avoiding the need to cut through the large muscles in the back and thereby minimizing additional and unnecessary damage.

Regardless of the procedure used to correct the condition, a minimally invasive approach has a common goal: to keep the body as naturally intact as it was prior to surgery. When performed by a skilled, highly-trained and experienced surgeon, this goal is achieved with less pain after surgery than traditional "open" procedures.  Also, there is generally a speedier recovery time. Minimally invasive spine surgery has also been proven to decrease the risk of infection, bleeding, and scarring post-surgery.

Spine trauma is most definitely a serious medical emergency and often happens unexpectedly. Being equipped with knowledge about available treatment options before an injury occurs is a great way to help ensure a favorable outcome if the unexpected happens. I sincerely hope it doesn't.