Alternatives to spinal fusion
Spinal fusion surgery, also known as spondylodesis, uses bone tissue to fuse at least two vertebrae. A technique used to prevent undesirable, painful vertebrae movement, spinal fusion surgery is helpful for patients suffering from many spinal ailments, including kyphosis and scoliosis. However, spinal fusion is not the only option available to patients suffering from vertebrae pain. Other alternatives include intradiscal electrothermal coagulation (IDET), artificial discs, posterior dynamic stabilization and disc regeneration.
During IDET, also called annuloplasty, a catheter passed through a needle that has been inserted into the lumbar disc space heats its outer core (annulus). IDET is thought to relieve pain by cauterizing nerve endings, as well as contracting and thickening the disc wall’s collagen fibers. This may help close painful cracks in the disc. IDET treatment is generally geared toward people who have degenerative disc disease that is less severe.
Unlike spinal fusion surgery, disc replacement surgery focuses on preserving normal spine motion rather than eliminating disc movement entirely. The procedure involves replacing problematic discs with artificial ones such as the PRODISC-L and Charite lumbar artificial discs. Although it puts the patient at greater risk during the procedure, disc replacement surgery also helps prevent parts of the lumbar spine from wearing down too quickly and may reduce more pain than spinal fusion.
Another alternative to spinal fusion surgery, posterior dynamic stabilization aims to preserve spinal motion while simultaneously relieving pressure from the troublesome area. This approach focuses on reducing pain by using movable stabilization devices, comparable to knee or ankle braces.
Finally, the regeneration process attempts to render spinal fusion surgery (and other types) unnecessary. Cellular and molecular biology researchers are studying gene therapy that might naturally slow or cease disc degeneration, as well as stimulate regrowth. Thus far, the BMP-12 gene, a bone morphogenetic protein, has proven successful in regenerating cells in the nucleus and annulus of spinal discs in animals.
Spinal fusion surgery is not the only option available to those suffering from vertebral disc pain. While many alternatives are still in the research stage, the possibility of eliminating spinal surgery altogether seems promising.