Robert Benz MD - Fort Collins
Orthopedic surgeons help people suffering from severe pain and disability return to activity. The ability to restore a patient’s lifestyle makes me feel my work is valuable. Though I am a surgeon, perhaps 75% -80% of the people I see are not surgical candidates. It’s generally important that people try other solutions before surgery such as physical therapy, chiropractic services, acupuncture, spinal injections, and lifestyle changes. Only in situations with neurologic deficiencies do we rush to surgery.
Physicians who specialize in orthopedic surgery, are consistently introduced to new gadgets and widgets developed to improve the surgical experience and our patient’s outcomes. While many of these new tools are invaluable in my practice, those of us in the specialty need to clearly evaluate these options before incorporating them into our work. New does not always mean better.
Yet in some cases the advances can make dramatic differences for patients and surgeons. Minimally invasive options for surgical procedures developed over the last few years, such as for spinal fusions and decompressions are valuable additions to the specialty. Other advancements in artificial disc replacements for the neck and back continue to improve the care we offer our patients and have replaced some of the spinal surgeries we used to perform. Not every patient is an optimal candidate for these technologies and there can be problems with some insurances not covering certain procedures.
Recently, we also have the ability to use biological agents to help patients heal faster with less pain after surgery. When we did spinal fusion surgery in the past we often harvested the patient’s bone from their hip to help the fusion heal. Now, we can often just aspirate bone marrow and mix this with a synthetic graft material resulting in less blood loss and less pain after surgery.
There are many other promising technologies for the future that may further improve the orthopedic spine surgeons’ options for treating patients. Stem cell therapy to heal moderately degenerated discs in the spine may eventually help some patients. There may also be a synthetic replacement of the center portion of the disc though it will be many years before we can use this type of technology in our practices. Many of these treatments may be very expensive and this may ultimately limit their usefulness.
With all these possibilities it is easy to get wrapped up in the question, “can technology solve these problems for patients and orthopedic surgeons?” The answer will be a long time coming and require thorough investigation and data collection to see if it works. In the meantime, I will continue to use the proven tools I have today to help reduce pain and restore my patient’s mobility, which is the best part of being an orthopedic surgeon today or in the future.