Surgeons Use 3D Technology to Perfect Intricate Surgery

You are probably familiar with scoliosis, the curvature of the spine that is common in children and adolescents. But what you may not be aware of is that scoliosis can occur in adults, and when it happens it can be absolutely debilitating.

Adult degenerative scoliosis frequently includes additional spinal conditions, including spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis, and compression fractures of the spine. These all arise as a result of bones and their surrounding connective tissues weakening and breaking down.

There are a variety of treatments available for those suffering from adult degenerative scoliosis, including back braces, surgery, and physical therapy.

A recent news report out of Arizona detailed how surgeons there are using 3-D technology to allow physicians to approach cases of severe scoliosis with a clear sense of what they will encounter when they operate on a patient.

The news story profiled the case of Megan Johansen, a Phoenix woman who was originally diagnosed with scoliosis when she was nine years old. That diagnosis was never addressed: Megan simply continued living her life with the curvature, right up until the time that her fourth child turned three years old.

Suddenly, she found herself in an entirely different situation. “I couldn’t breathe and I was starting to have really bad heart palpitations where it just felt like it was going to be beating out my chest or it would just, like, seize up,” she said. The curvature that had previously been an inconvenience had led to a collapse of her spine, leaving her with a 90-degree bend and with no choice other than immediate surgical repair.

Her physicians chose to prepare themselves for her surgery by combining the images from her CT and MRI scans with 3-D technology to make an exact replica of her spine.

Speaking of the ability to work with a true-to-scale model, her physician said, “We know how to print these spines in such a way that we’ll get the same tissue quality in the spine and the same biomechanical performance of the spine model as we would expect to in the patient.”

The creation of the replica of each patient’s spine costs less than $100, and is particularly helpful in an extremely complex case like Megan’s. “The models not only look like the patient’s spine, but also bend and move like the patient’s spine,” the physician said.

In the case of this particular patient, working with the model before the day of the surgery revealed that their original treatment plan was not workable because the pedicle bones in her spine were too small to accommodate the screws that were needed to accomplish their goals. They came up with an alternative approach.

The doctor explained, “It gives us an opportunity to rehearse the case, to practice the plan that we have going into it and say, ‘Is this going to work or not? Do we need to revise our plan?‘”

The end result was a surgery that took far less time than originally anticipated and that provided a greater correction of her curvature than Megan had been told she’d see. She added five inches to her height and is back to work. She is even able to do some outdoor activities, though she is still experiencing some pain.

Finding the right treatment for each individual patient is a big part of what we do at our spine surgery practice in New Jersey. For a diagnosis and treatment plan to suit your particular needs, contact us today to set up an appointment.

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