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The Promise of Posterior Dynamic Non-Fusion Devices

Dr. Anand Blog

May 9th, 2018

I'VE BEEN A SPINE surgeon for more than 20 years and am the director of spine trauma at a large hospital in one of the nation's most populous cities – Los Angeles. I have seen and treated my fair share of serious back and neck injuries. From those sustained during a car accident, a particularly hard fall or during sporting activities, there are few diagnoses that frighten people more than a broken neck. The good news is that advances in medicine and our understanding of what puts people at risk for these types of traumatic spine injuries have come a long way. Even so, there's still a lot of misunderstanding that needs to be cleared up.

The Promise of Posterior Dynamic Non-Fusion Devices

First, some explanation of spinal anatomy and medical terminology. While the commonly used phrase "broken neck" is what most people expect to hear when they've suffered a traumatic injury to this area of the spine, it isn't a medical diagnosis. Rather, a fracture of the cervical spine is the diagnosis a patient would receive if he or she has suffered such an injury. The cervical spine refers to the first seven vertebrae of the spine, housed in the neck. There's also a quite a bit of difference between what we commonly think of as a broken bone and its actual medical phrasing – a fracture. When we think of "break," it often conjures the image of a bone, split in two. While that can happen, it's extremely rare. Rather, a chip or crack in one of the cervical vertebrae is really all that is required to constitute the diagnosis of a fracture. In addition to understanding the terminology used to define a fracture, it's also important to understand that a sprain and a fracture are completely different diagnoses. Whereas a fracture refers to the structural trauma to a bone or bones in the vertebrae of the spine, a sprain refers to damage sustained to the ligamentous tissues involved surrounding the cervical spine.

With the anatomy and medical terminology lessons out of the way, let's get into how these injuries occur. As one can imagine, the causes of cervical spine injuries are widely varied. It probably isn't surprising to know that many of the traumatic spine injury diagnoses in a hospital have long been the result of serious automobile accidents as well as falls from extreme heights. These accidental injuries aside, sprains to the cervical spine are widely reported in American football. However, some new statistical information reported by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons at its annual meeting this year has called attention to a significant increase in cervical spine fractures among male cyclists in recent years. The most common cause of cervical spine fractures for females in engaging in sport, meanwhile, was horseback riding. These aren't exactly the sports that most people call to mind when they think of neck injury risk. But they bring up important considerations for the medical community when we try to educate the public about cervical spine injury risk reduction.

It remains true that young men are at an increased risk for sustaining traumatic spine injuries, including those that affect the neck, because this gender and age cohort is generally more likely to engage in riskier physical activities. The most important point here is to remind the public that no matter what the activity is, safety must remain the premier focus before you engage in it. Whether it's always wearing a helmet when you ride a bike – no matter the distance – or never diving into a body of water that you don't know the depth of, there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your cervical spine injury risk. And of course, we can never be certain when an automobile accident may occur, but committing to wearing your seatbelt during every car trip (whether you're the driver or a passenger) and never, ever texting while driving are also ways you can reduce your risk.

All precautions considered, cervical spine injuries still do occur. But advances in modern spine treatment now allow us to treat them in ways that we could only dream of just 20 years ago. From minimally invasive surgical procedures to repair the spine to physical therapy and rehabilitation developments that allow a return to work and active living sooner, we've come a long way. Still, we spine professionals would love to prevent these injuries from occurring in the first place. Whether its precautions for yourself or someone you care about, always think about safety first, no matter what the activity is.


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