Spring 2008 Issue

Patients Find Alternatives To Spinal Fusion Surgery
By Seeking A Second Opinion

Chuck Cloninger of Asheville and Robert Bass of Huntersville know the value of seeking a second medical opinion. They were both told that a spinal fusion was the only option to relieve their conditions and both found fusion alternatives at Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates.

Prior to coming to Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates, Chuck was told by his physician that he would need a spinal fusion to relieve his worsening neck pain. He underwent the same procedure 15 years earlier and another fusion was sure to impact his ability to enjoy white water kayaking, hiking and mountain biking.

“Spinal fusion is an effective technique for treatment of degenerative disc disease, disc herniation, and other spinal disorders. However, the known detrimental effects of fusion include the loss of mobility and a high risk of accelerating adjacent disc degeneration. These harmful consequences have driven the search for a viable alternative." said Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates neurosurgeon Vinay Deshmukh, M.D.

After reviewing Chuck's MRI, Dr. Deshmukh determined he was a candidate for a cervical artificial disc procedure. Artificial discs allow the patient to maintain a greater range of motion and also place less stress on adjacent discs than spinal fusion.

Patients who receive an artificial disc can also expect a shorter recovery period than with spinal fusion surgery. Generally, patients can go home the same day or the next day after artificial disc surgery and can begin using their new joint right away. With fusion surgery, the patients may require a cervical collar for immobilization and may take months to complete their fusion. Thus, the recovery time with artificial disc surgery is significantly quicker.

A three-month follow-up X-ray for Chuck Cloninger revealed that full range of motion had been regained after receiving an artificial disc.

“It's been less than five months and I'm almost as good as new,” Chuck said. He is now swimming up to two miles a day and recently went white water kayaking on the French Broad River, something his intense neck pain had prevented him from doing for more than a year prior to his surgery.

Another Option For Treating A Ruptured Disc

Like Chuck Cloninger, Robert Bass also thought fusion surgery was his only answer when he came to Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates, and Dr. Deshmukh, for a second opinion. Another physician had diagnosed Robert with a ruptured disc and recommended a spinal fusion, since Robert's insurance plan would not pay for an artificial disc.

Spinal fusion was not an appealing option for Robert. Because he was only 38 years old, the added stress on his vertebrae that would result from a spinal fusion meant he would probably require at least two to four more spine surgeries in his lifetime.

Five months after Chuck Cloninger had artificial
disc surgery he resumed kayaking
on the French Broad River.
After an examination and review of Robert's X-rays and MRIs, Dr. Deshmukh felt confident that a posterior cervical foraminotomy could be an effective alternative to spinal fusion. This minimally invasive procedure is used to enlarge the space where the nerve root exits from the spinal cord. Any piece of vertebral disc that is pushing on the nerve is also removed.

“I'm 95% healed,” said Robert. “It's pretty amazing and I'm very grateful to Dr. Deshmukh for finding an alternative treatment.”

“Maintaining quality of life is the ultimate goal,” said Dr. Deshmukh. “Motion preservation technologies such as artificial discs are a viable alternative to spinal fusions for many patients. When these newer advancements are not yet covered by a patient's insurance, other alternatives to spinal fusion are always considered. Chuck and Robert are key examples of our ongoing efforts to pursue the best possible outcomes for our patients.”

For more information about treatment of spine injuries and disorders, call 800-344-6716.

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