Health Team

Spinal surgery goes 3D

Posted December 17, 2009 3:25 p.m. EST
Updated December 17, 2009 7:11 p.m. EST

— Ten percent of people with back pain undergo surgery, and a new three-dimensional imaging system is helping surgeons more accurately fix patients' problems.

Dr. Robert Allen, a neurosurgeon at WakeMed in Raleigh, recently performed surgery on a patient to relieve to lower back pain. The problem was caused by a combination of arthritis, disc herniation and bones pressing on nerves.

"In addition to getting the pressure off the nerves ... we fused that segment (of the spine)," Allen said.

Spinal fusions can be done at any level of the spine, such as the cervical area of the neck, but are most commonly done in the lumbar area.

The problem surgeons face is that everyone's spines aren't the same. Some spinal deformities cannot be seen with the traditional two-dimensional imaging systems.

"Sometimes, getting them in exactly the right spot can be challenging," Allen said.

Allen, though, has a new set of tools to help him, including the O-arm Multidimensional Imaging System.

"That will give you imaging very similar to what you would get in a CT scan, but you have it right there in the (operating room)," he said.

It provides a traditional flat image, and a computer combines pictures to create a nearly 3D view.

"We use these images to help us target a perfect trajectory," Allen said.

When the surgery is done, the O-arm is used again to look for possible errors in screw placement. If there is a problem, surgeons can correct it then, rather than in another surgery later.

For more complex spinal fusion surgeries, the O-arm system exposes the patient to less radiation than does the traditional flouroscopic imaging used in most procedures.