FAQs About Spine Surgery

Back Pain FAQs | Neck Pain FAQs | Spine Surgery FAQs | Non-Surgical Treatment FAQs



When should someone consider surgery for back pain?

After nonsurgical treatments such as ice and heat therapy, bed rest (1-2 days at most), exercise, injections and medications have not proven effective, Dr. Gus Varnavas may consider recommending surgery. A back pain sufferer may also want to explore alternative treatments such as acupuncture.

What is minimally invasive surgery?

Minimally invasive surgical techniques provide the opportunity to successfully treat back problems with minimal interruption to the patientís regular, active lifestyle. Results achieved from these methods have been proven to match that of conventional "open surgery." Dr. Gus Varnavas makes smaller incisions, sometimes only a half-inch in length. Through these tiny incisions, the surgeon inserts special surgical instruments and probes in order to access the damaged disc in the spine. By using minimally invasive techniques, access and repair to the damaged disc or vertebrae is achieved without harming nearby muscles and tissues. Other benefits of minimally invasive techniques include shorter surgery duration and recovery time, less visible scars and reduced pain and blood loss.

Do you offer laser spine surgery options?

Patients often ask us if they are candidates for laser spine surgery, with the impression that a procedure involving "laser surgery" uses the most up to date technology available. In reality, however, significant advances have been made that improve on the many limitations inherent in laser spine surgery. Minimally invasive spinal microsurgery utilizing an advanced, high technology operating microscope and retractors or tubes which limit soft tissue trauma during surgical exposure now represents the highest tech spinal surgery available.

What is fellowship training?

A fellowship is the highest level of training available to a specialized physician in the U.S. It involves a financial grant for advanced study or training or to allow payment for work on a special project. It provides a stipend, and, in some cases, the miscellaneous expenses involved in the study, training or project (Source: Mosbyís Medical Dictionary).

What are the benefits of the artificial disc?

Generally speaking, those who receive artificial disc replacements return to activity sooner than traditional fusion patients. Also, because there is no need to harvest bone from the patientís hip, there is no discomfort or recovery associated with a second incision site. Dr. Gus Varnavas says some of the overall benefits of artificial disc surgery include:

Retains movement and stability of the spine
Prevents degeneration of surrounding segments
No bone graft required
Quicker recovery and return to work
Less invasive and painful than a fusion
Reduces pain associated with disc disease

Who is a candidate for the artificial disc?

Patients with a diseased disc between L4 and L5 or between L5 and S1 (all in the lower back) that is worn out or become injured and causes back pain are candidates for the artificial disc. Other candidates include those with degenerative disc disease (DDD) whose bones (vertebrae) have moved less than 3mm. Dr. Gus Varnavas will help you determine whether or not the artificial disc is a good choice for you. Factors that will be considered include your activity level, weight, occupation and allergies (Source: Charite Artificial Disc).

Why is the artificial disc surgery important?

The artificial disc is the best alternative to date for fusion surgery. More than 200,000 spinal fusion surgeries are performed each year in the U.S. to relieve pain caused by damaged discs in the low back and neck areas. Some experts estimate that over the next 10 years, more than half of patients who would otherwise receive a fusion will receive an artificial disc instead.

Are there any drawbacks associated with the artificial disc?

When treating knee and hip replacement patients, orthopedic surgeons try to postpone the implantation of an artificial joint until a patient is at least 50 years old so that they do not outlive their artificial joint, which typically lasts anywhere from 15 to 20 years. Revision surgery, which may be necessary to replace a worn-out artificial joint, can be complex.

This is also a concern with the artificial disc. Unlike knee and hip replacement patients who are typically in their 50s or 60s, many patients can benefit from artificial disc technology at a much younger age ó in their 20s or 30s. Therefore, the implantation of an artificial disc in younger patients can raise a surgeonís concern about the potential life span of the artificial disc in the spine and the need for revision surgery to replace a worn-out artificial disc, which can be complex.


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Need an Appointment?

Gus Varnavas, MD ó at Community Hospital of Anaconda ó specializes in the treatment of back and neck pain and strives to help people return to activity. Request an appointment with Dr. Varnavas in his office in Anaconda, MT.