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The future of spine care

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Dr. Dilan Ellegala, the neurosurgeon who pioneered the SonoSpine procedure, has been awarded the Exceptional Achievement Award at the Sri Lanka Foundation Awards on November 18, 2018. For more information on this prestigious honor, please visit slf.la/awards.

If you have low back or neck pain, you are not alone. About 80 percent of adults experience acute back and neck pain at some point in their lifetimes. It is the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work days. In a large federal survey, more than a quarter of adults reported experiencing low back pain during the past three months. About 20 percent of people affected by acute low back pain develop chronic low back pain with persistent symptoms at one year, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

As a neurosurgeon, I notice that patients suffering from neck and back pain are generally worried about two things: 1) addiction to and dependence on painkillers and narcotics, and 2) undergoing spine surgery, and more precisely, undergoing a spine fusion surgery. As a result of that, many individuals suffering from neck or back pain might avoid seeking medical help.

Desiring to offer a better, safer, and more effective alternative, the surgeons at SonoSpine have developed the revolutionary SonoSculpt technique. Unlike other minimally invasive spine surgeries that use rongeurs, similar to pliers, to remove large pieces of bone, the SonoSculpt procedure uses ultrasound technology similar to the ultrasonic toothbrush. High-frequency vibration of the tip of the ultrasonic tool allows the spine surgeon to precisely remove bone and disc. This precision achieves a greater level of accuracy, allowing for millimeter by millimeter nerve decompression. This level of control results in improved resolution of pain, faster recovery, and fewer complications.

However, the SonoSpine team believes in a holistic approach to spinal issues — avoiding spine surgery if possible — and much of the time, surgery is not necessary for spine problems. “As physicians managing conditions of neck and back pain, not only do we have to recognize the narcotic opioid epidemic currently in existence, but we have to be proactive in implementing (conservative) solutions,” said Dr. Sheba Jilani Shah, a physiatrist and interventional pain management specialist in Scottsdale, Arizona.

I also believe that one of the factors contributing to this problem is that in most cases, spine care has not been delivered through a true team approach in which various providers involved in the care of an individual suffering from neck or back pain design and deliver a true comprehensive treatment program to the patient. Thus, there are three components that need to be addressed and looked at: 1) pain-management alternatives to opioid medications, 2) nonfusion or less-invasive options in spine surgery, with the appropriate indications, and 3) a multidisciplinary team approach to spine care management that takes into consideration nonsurgical and surgical options.

These three components are in line with the philosophy of SonoSpine and are addressed through four phases that each one of our patients goes through: establishing the correct diagnosis; designing an appropriate treatment plan, which could be surgical or nonsurgical; physical therapy and rehabilitative medicine, which we believe is as important to maintain spine health; and implementing lifestyle modifications to factors that can contribute to spine-related problems.

I believe that as technology and techniques continue to develop in minimally invasive spine surgery and motion-preservation and fusion-avoidance surgeries such as SonoSpine, we can contribute to and be part of the solution to the nation’s opioid crisis. SonoSpine’s procedures are outpatient, same-day surgeries — and 88 percent of patients in an initial study perceive their results as “excellent” four weeks after surgery.

Written by Dr. Mohamed Abdulhamid

If you have exhausted nonsurgical options or are searching for a more comprehensive approach, SonoSpine and our team of clinicians may be the ideal option.

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