Awake Spine Surgery: A Promising Option for Relieving Back Pain
June 02, 2018
By Becky Wiese
Back surgery has a bad stigma for a good reason. It is often the last resort for patients who have chronic back pain and have tried a variety of non-surgical options in hopes of getting relief. Traditional “open” back surgery, used since the 1960s, involves gaining access to the spine to fix whatever the issue is via a rather large incision and cutting through muscle to reach the spine itself.
One down side to this type of surgery, regardless of whether the repair to the spine is successful, is that anytime the soft tissues surrounding the spine (muscles, tendons, connective tissue) are damaged — as they are during open surgery — our bodies heal these tissues with scar. The original tissues become weaker and less likely to move as intended before they were cut. The more scar tissue that is generated also places a greater demand on the recovery process. An extended recovery and rehabilitation process can lead to additional back problems and diminish the full benefit of the surgery in the first place.
Dr. Nitin Kukkar, an orthopedic surgeon at Orthopedic & Sports Enhancement Center (OSEC), offers a different option for patients who suffer from spine-related maladies such as a herniated disc or nerve issues. The procedure, called awake spine surgery, or more accurately, endoscopic spine surgery, uses the very latest technology and training in minimally invasive techniques. In stark contrast to traditional spine surgery, this procedure is often completed in less than half an hour, and unlike many other minimally invasive procedures, the patient is awake and talking during the entire process.
Leading-edge technology and ongoing training are what enable this surgery to be so successful. Even surgeons who have had training in the early 2000s must be re-trained to perform these procedures using the newest technology. Dr. Kukkar explains, “The incision is specific to the need; typically, a 7mm portal incision approximately 10cm away from the spine acts as a portal for a very small camera, a laser, and other necessary instruments to be guided to exactly the spot that needs repair. The camera enables the surgeon to see exactly what needs to be treated.”
This technique enables the surgeon to achieve a better outcome for the patient, with minimal soft tissue damage and scarring. “We are trying to avoid future issues by not cutting muscles or damaging the structure of the spine,” says Dr. Kukkar. The procedure can be used for all parts of the spine, from the neck to the lower back and sacroiliac joint, and is a great option for patients of various ages. “We’ve had especially good results with younger patients.”
Christina Huette is a good example. At age 41 she “was struggling with back pain which was unrelenting.” She was unable to work or even do housework without pain medication. She saw other spine surgeons and even tried spinal injections — no one had answers, and nothing was working.
“Finally, I saw Dr. Kukkar who performed an awake endoscopic spine surgery on me and made me feel 100 percent better, no pain at all,” she says. “I was scared to even hear about being awake during surgery and talking to a surgeon during the procedure, but it worked out very well for me. In fact, I went shopping right after my surgery on the drive back to home. I have been pain free for almost two years now.”
The awake spine surgery takes less time, so it can be done on an outpatient basis, another benefit to the patient. “They don’t even have to worry about stitches because we use a special medical glue to close the small incision,” Dr. Kukkar says. Since the patient does not undergo general anesthesia, less time is needed for recovery immediately after the surgery. Patients often go home within a half hour of the completion of the surgery, and with no limitations.
Other benefits include less risk of infection, less blood loss, less down time, less pain. In fact, many times the patient can tell that their back feels better during the surgery. “Some may need a little longer to feel the difference,” says Dr. Kukkar. “But it’s definitely faster than traditional surgery.”
For more information or to make an appointment, you may contact Dr. Kukkar at Orthopedic & Sports Enhancement Center, 309-663-9000 or www.orthopedicSEC.com. OSEC is located at 2406 E. Empire Street in Bloomington.
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