Technological developments in spine surgery are occurring at an ever-increasing rate, but what does this mean for you?

Cervical artificial disc replacement has 4 to 7 years of clinical results reported in the United States. Watch: Cervical Disc Replacement Surgery Video

To date, most new technologies have focused on goals such as developing less invasive approaches, reducing postoperative pain and speeding recovery, preserving motion in the spine, and enhancing the fusion process.

See Getting Adequate Pain Control After Back Surgery and Practical Advice for Recovering from Back Surgery

Newer technologies that seem to be here to stay include:

  • Fusion outcomes are improving over time, with improving fusion rates and less postoperative pain and complications. Areas of improvement include less invasive approaches, more bone graft options, and innovations in cages/implants.

    Watch our award-winning Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) Video

  • Minimally invasive sacroiliac joint fusion is gaining more widespread adoption.

    With newer, less invasive fusion approaches now available, SI joint fusion is a more commonly offered treatment option for those with pain caused by sacroiliac joint dysfunction.2

  • See Treatment Options for Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction

  • Vertebral augmentation for a painful fractured vertebra has been around for awhile and patients now have many options to choose from, including options for vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. Prior to these innovations, a patient with an osteoporosis compression fracture would pretty much only have nonsurgical treatment options, but vertebral augmentation has now become a mainstay option that offers certain patients a relatively reliable path to pain relief.
  • See Vertebral Augmentation for Compression Fractures

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction may be treated with a less invasive fusion approach.
Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction Video

Limitations of technology

None of these technologies, however, change two important fundamentals for patients to keep in mind:

  • The importance of getting an accurate preoperative diagnosis, which is surprisingly difficult when it comes to identifying the cause of many types of back and neck pain. Even the best technology will not be useful if what is operated on is not what was causing your pain.

  • See Getting an Accurate Back Pain Diagnosis

  • Choosing a surgeon who has expertise in your specific pathology (diagnosis) and treatment. Take your time in selecting a surgeon—don't rush into a decision about surgery. Many people get a second or third opinion before making a decision, and surgeons are used to this so don't be concerned about consulting with more than one surgeon.

  • See How to Select a Spine Surgeon

Spine surgery is like any other field of medicine in that it is part art and part science. Practicing spine surgery involves trying to improve techniques for accurately diagnosing patients’ problems, and then improving surgical technique. To some extent, all this focus on new technology can be a distraction. Sometimes, new technology may even be more of a marketing tool for physicians than a true advancement in patient outcomes.

Just as in the rest of life, with spine surgery there are no simple answers, and relying on new technologies alone to improve outcomes is probably not a good idea. The combination of judicial use of newer technologies combined with rigorous scientific study and the surgeon's skills and expertise holds the promise of providing an increased probability of good outcomes.

Learn more:

What to Expect from Spine Surgery for Low Back Pain

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS): What It Is and How to Avoid Pain after Surgery