With some types of spine surgery, all that’s necessary is the partial removal of a disc or the removal of bone spurs to relieve nerve compression. Other times, removing part or all of a disc or taking pressure off of nerves leaves the spine unstable. This also happens with traditional fusion surgery where adjacent vertebrae are joined together with graft material. When there is a need to restore stability of the spine or prevent future instability, hardware is inserted. Here’s a closer look at the hardware a Santa Monica spine surgeon might use and what you need to know about each type.
Available in different sizes and shapes, plates are used to physically stabilize a specific area of the spine. There are plates designed for use in all three areas of the spine (lower back, mid-back, and neck). Depending on the procedure performed and how many levels are affected, one or more plates may be implanted.
Pedicle screws do not directly attach to a spinal segment. Instead, they serve as solid anchor points. Rods are often connected to them. Screws are also used to hold plates in place. When used as part of fusion surgery, screws are no longer needed for stability once the graft takes. However, they are usually left in place. The breakage rate for screws used today has been reduced to one in a thousand.
Commonly used for minimally invasive spinal fusion procedures, rods are a cylinder-shaped implant used to stabilize a specific vertebral segment, much like what’s done with a plate. Rods are usually connected to screws to prevent motion and increase stability.
The purpose of wires is to hold a certain spinal segment together in a way that increases stability while retaining some flexibility. Due to advances in technology, wires and/or hooks aren’t used as much in procedures performed today. Newer pedicle screw hardware can often be placed during minimally invasive procedures without the use of wires.
Designed to mimic the appearance and function of real spinal discs, artificial discs are sometimes used as an alternative to traditional surgery involving a fusion once a disc has been removed. The main benefit for patients is the ability to retain motion within the affected area of the spine.
A bridge between vertebral segments is created with bone graft material. Bone grafts are commonly used during spinal fusion procedures performed after a damaged disc is removed. Grafts can be made from the patient’s own bone material (autograft) or they may come from cadavers (allograft). Other grafts are made from synthetic materials known as bone graft substitutes. A newer option is a type of graft made of bone morphogenetic protein (BMP), which may reduce postoperative pain. BMP is only approved for use with fusions done from the front (anterior fusions).
Increased Precision and Reliability
Newer surgical techniques such as robotic-assisted surgery have increased the precision of hardware placement. While it is possible for hardware to become damaged or wear down over time, this is less likely to happen with the more durable materials used today.
You may have heard tales about spinal hardware setting off alarms when going through metal detectors. However, most hardware used today is made of titanium and synthetic materials. Such materials usually do not set off metal detectors. As for how it feels, many patients get used to their hardware and hardly notice it’s in place. Even if it is slightly noticeable, most patients prefer the minor inconvenience instead of lingering spine-related pain.
There are many types of spinal surgery that may not require hardware, such as a kyphoplasty procedure. Santa Monica patients can rely on the trusted surgeons at The Spine Institute to help them find the relief they need. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an appointment.