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Health Information Preserving the Motion of the Spine

Back pain can really take a toll on the quality of life. One of the primary problems causing back pain is the degeneration of one or several discs that provide a flexible cushion between the vertebrae. As the discs move or collapse, the space between the vertebrae narrows. This narrowing can pinch nerves causing pain and numbness in lower back and the legs.

As new innovations emerge in the treatment of chronic back pain, surgeons are focusing on more effective techniques to relieve pain while also preserving the natural motion of the spine. The Spine and Back Center at Rush University Medical Center is now offering a new technique to stabilize the spine without fusion.

For many years, the main surgical solution has been traditional fusion surgery, which generally includes removal of the affected discs and fusion of the vertebral segments. Over time, the bone grows fusing the vertebrae together. The result is a loss of mobility in the area.

"Obviously when you do a spinal fusion, the bone never moves again. This flexible system helps the spine to function more normally," says Frank Phillips, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Rush. "The long-term benefit is the soft tissues and muscles will be intact and functioning, while the spine is better supported."

The new system uses the same surgical approach of traditional fusion surgery, but employs flexible materials instead of rigid stainless steel or titanium typically used in spinal fusion. The flexible material supports the spine and preserves anatomical structures without rigidity.

Phillips is interested to see more studies on the potential advantages of the flexible system compared to fusion over the long term. When the vertebrae are fused, the stress is transferred to the next level and the adjacent vertebrae can wear out more quickly.

"Clearly your spine is designed to move. Theoretically, by still allowing some movement, the load transmission to the next vertebral level is more normal and it should delay or prevent the next level from wearing out," says Phillips.

Phillips has been performing the surgery on patients who are experiencing a mild degree of instability in the lumbar region. Such patients experience pain in the back and nerve pain in the legs, or a numbness and heaviness in the legs. These are patients that would typically undergo fusion surgery but would not be candidates for artificial disc replacement.

"My patients have all done even better than I anticipated following surgery using the Dynesys System," says Phillips. "I see it as another tool, along with disc replacement, in our move toward motion preservation."

The Spine and Back Center at Rush University Medical Center is home to highly trained orthopedic spine surgeons, neurosurgeons, and physiatrists offering the most advanced treatment options in the region. Many treatment advances were pioneered at Rush, including minimally invasive techniques for lumbar discectomies and fusions, and clinical research trials for artificial discs. Rush is the only center in Chicago participating in the largest orthopedic research study ever supported by the National Institutes of Health to find the most effective treatment for back pain.

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • For information on spine and back care at Rush visit the Spine and Back Center home page.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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