New 3-D Imaging Makes for Safer Spine Surgeries

February 05, 2013

People suffering from chronic back pain and spinal disorders now have a better way to get relief, thanks to a new imaging system that generates 3-D views for spine surgeons performing complex spinal procedures.


Bronson Methodist Hospital is the first in southwest Michigan to acquire the O-arm imaging system—a new technology that can help make complex and minimally invasive spine surgery safer. 


Minimally invasive procedures benefit patients who suffer from conditions such as herniated discs, scoliosis, sciatica and other spinal deformities. Smaller incisions result in less pain, faster recovery and decreased chance of infections and other complications.  O-arm’s imaging system helps surgeons by showing them exactly where they are in the body during an operation without having to make large cuts and move around tissue.  


True to its name, the O-arm is a large, doughnut-shaped, CT scanning machine. It rotates around a patient’s body to capture conventional, 2-D images of the spine. In less than 30 seconds, the system transforms those 2-D images into 360-degree 3-D views seen on large, flat-screen monitors.  The improved view shows surgeons the exact location of their medical instruments in relation to patient’s body, and helps to accurately guide them to place screws and other hardware.


Traditionally, a patient’s CT scans, MRIs and X-rays were collected prior to surgery. During procedures, surgeons used a fluoroscopic x-ray machine that only produced 2-D images. Patients occasionally had to be moved around in order to capture additional perspectives, therefore increasing risk. The entire process was slower, less exact and staff and patients were exposed to higher levels of radiation. The o-arm reduces radiation exposure for everyone in the operating room, making these procedures safer for everyone involved.


The O-arm is especially helpful during procedures for complex conditions like scoliosis. Previously, surgeons would need to completely open the back to see the spine with the naked eye, move tissue around, and look at the placement of previously placed hardware. Then surgeons had to wait until after the procedure when patients recovered to take CT scans and assess the outcome. If something wasn’t right, some patients may need to have an additional surgery. Now with the O-arm, surgeons can see everything without making large incisions. They can perform a CT-like scan in the operating room prior to finishing the surgery to assess hardware placement. 


“When used by experienced hands, the O-arm adds an unprecedented level of safety, precision and speed,” says neurosurgeon, Gregory Wiggins. “We can see inside the patient before we even begin, accomplish exactly what we need, and do so in the least invasive way.”


Due to the population aging, back pain has become more prevalent.  In fact, 80% of Americans suffer severe back pain at some point. After exhausting other options, 10% eventually opt for surgery.


Battle Creek resident, Brian Cotton, underwent back surgery eight years ago to remove disc fragments in his lower back. The pain eventually returned. When it became unbearable, his chiropractor referred him to Bronson Neuroscience Center. “I couldn’t move,” said Cotton. His right foot was numb and just dropped when he tried to walk.


Dr. Wiggins used the O-arm to perform lumbar fusion surgery on Cotton. The procedure reduces pain by eliminating motion at the affected area of the spine and freeing the nerve that was compressed. By adding a bone graft “starter” to the problem joint, Dr. Wiggins set up a biological response for Cotton’s body to grow new bone. This bone helped fuse the two vertebrae and stop motion—and pain—in that location.


This technology has been amazingly helpful with more complex and delicate procedures like spinal fusions and scoliosis treatment,” says Dr. Wiggins. “We can pinpoint exactly where we need to go before we make the first incision and navigate more confidently during the procedure. That’s a big deal when you’re working around the spinal cord.”


The spinal fusion surgical procedure itself hasn't changed, but the O-arm allows the surgeon to accomplish the procedure in a safer, more accurate way. Patients rarely see this state-of-the-art equipment because they are already under anesthesia by the time it is in use. However, they do notice its results.


Cotton’s procedure lasted three hours. Immediately afterward, he noticed the numbness in his foot had disappeared. He has only two scars about an inch long and 3 small stab incisions. And he has less pain compared to his first surgery eight years ago. Now he is back to work and back to his life. “I was extremely happy with my care at Bronson,” he said.


About Bronson Neuroscience Center
Bronson is southwest Michigan's preferred hospital for head injury, stroke, and spine and back surgery.  Bronson Methodist Hospital is ranked best in Michigan for neurosurgery and is ranked in the top 5% in the nation for neurosciences, neurosurgery and stroke by Healthgrades, an independent organization that evaluates quality of care at hospitals nationwide.


Bronson Neuroscience Center offers one of the region’s most comprehensive neuro programs. Patients who have disorders of the brain, spine and nervous system receive innovative treatment options and advanced diagnostics. Care is provided by highly trained specialists, including a team of neurologists and neurosurgeons, southwest Michigan’s only epileptologist, a board-certified vascular neurologist, pediatric fellowship-trained neurosurgeon, and a pediatric neurology program.


Learn more at www.bronsonneurosciencecenter.com or by calling (269) 341-7500. 


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