Spine surgery, especially something called spinal fusion, has been a last resort option for patients, since recovery can be long and a bone graft from the patient is often needed, which can be very painful. But there are a couple of new technologies that are making this surgery and recovery much easier today.
For one, there is what looks like an expandable cone that allows doctors to spread the back muscles without cutting, to get at the level that needs to be fused. And there's also a new drug that makes this approach just as effective as the old bone graft. It's called Bone Morphogenetic Protein, BMP for short.
"BMP is a protein that helps the bone heal, and since it's a natural protein that usually belongs to the natural bone, it works at least as well as a natural bone and, according to some studies, even better," says Dr. Fabien Bitan, orthopedic surgeon of the spine.
The BMP is soaked into sponges that are inserted between the vertebrae to be fused, preventing a graft and healing the bone more quickly and reliably. Stewart Oakley had the procedure to fuse two lulmbar vertebrae. And just nine days later, he says the recovery time was well worth it.
"Unbelievable. I kid you not. By the seventh day, you could easily do 10, 11 blocks, 14 blocks if you wanted to," says Stewart Oakley, spine fused for back pain.
Stewart's fusion was done both front and back, which makes his rapid recovery all the more remarkable. The BMP, which is a genetically engineered growth factor for bone, has just been approved for certain back operations.