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Artificial implants could help correct failed back surgeries

Published On: Dec 24 2013 11:53:54 AM CST   Updated On: Oct 24 2013 06:16:39 PM CDT

Spinal implants are giving patients relief from back surgery that has failed.

San Francisco, Calif. -

Doctors perform about 300,000 spinal operations each year in the United States.  One in three of those surgeries will result in failure.  Now one doctor is trying to correct what may have gone wrong in the first place. 

Sharion Wilton is happiest with a needle and thread in hand, but quilting was just too painful when she injured her spine 15 years ago.  It happened after she passed out and fell in her bathroom one night.  

She put her head through the wall, caving in the wall.  Excruciating neck pain and migraines followed.   She said it felt like there was a hot poker in my back.  

Wilton had a spinal fusion to fix the problem.  But, over time, the discs on either side of her spine disintegrated. 

Dr. Kenneth Light says her spine was fused in an awkward position.   He said it made the discs above the fusion work twice as hard when the patient looked straight ahead.   

Light cut where it had been fused, straightened it, and replaced the faulty discs with two artificial implants.  

"By cutting the fusion here and putting the disc replacement in, it allowed the spine to straighten itself," the surgeon said.

Wilton was one of the first patients to have the surgery.  She said she feels like a brand new woman,  especially now that pain isn't interfering with her passion for quilting.  The disc replacements should last a lifetime. 

In rare cases, the implants can migrate into the bone; the doctor says that risk is extremely unusual.    Doctors in Europe have used spinal implants for more than 30 years.  American doctors have only been using the implants for about seven years.


BACKGROUND: Spinal cord injuries are one of the most painful injuries of the body. Not only is it extremely dangerous to injure your neck or spine, but it can affect the movement of the rest of the body. Spinal cord injuries (SCI) are primarily common in adults, but children sometimes suffer from them too. Doctors diagnose a spinal cord injury by the level and type. This is determined by the location of injury on the spinal cord and the loss of feeling or numbness. Spinal cord injuries can aggravate discs and nerves in the back and cause them to over compensate for the injured nervous system. (Source: http://www.spinalcord.org/resource-center/askus/index.php?pg=kb.page&id=1384)


CAUSE: Common causes of spinal cord injuries are typically due to physical accidents such as:

  • Car accidents
  • Sports injury
  • A fall from an extreme height
  • Stab or bullet wound
  • Severe twist of the middle body
  • Diving accident

(Source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000029.htm)


SYMPTOMS: The severity of a spinal cord injury relates to the place of the injury on the spinal cord. “The completeness” is also a way to identify how severe a spinal injury is. There are two classifications of severity; complete and incomplete. A complete injury is if all sensory and motor function is obsolete below the spinal injury and an incomplete injury is if there is some motor and sensory activity beneath the spinal injury. Some symptoms include:

  • Paralysis (loss of movement) in arms or legs
  • Trouble walking
  • Headache, neck pain or stiff neck
  • Tingling or numbness in leg or arm
  • Head is in unusual position

(Source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000029.htm and http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/spinal-cord-injury/DS00460/DSECTION=symptoms)


NEW TREATMENT: A failed back or neck surgery is a fear of all patients who are in need of back or spinal cord surgery and they have a reason to be. Every one out of three back surgeries will have to be re-attempted. Failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) characterizes the case of those who have had an unsuccessful outcome with spine or back surgery. But now, there is a procedure for spine injuries that can straighten the spine and replace damaged discs in the back. Dr. Kenneth Light of San Francisco, California performs disc replacement surgeries that relieve any back pain and fix what previous doctors could not. This procedure also improves a patient’s range of motion in the back and neck. With a quick recovery rate, more patients are looking more into this procedure than traditional surgery. (Source: Dr. Kenneth Light)






San Francisco, California