The spine forms a pillar of support for the skeletal system and head. It is among the most delicate parts of the body because it houses the spinal cord containing millions of small nerves that send messages from the body to the brain. This is known as the nervous system.
Showing me a skeleton , Dr Cheok Chee Yew, consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Penang Adventist Hospital, points out the spinal cord while explaining that back pain is becoming an increasingly common problem in modern times.
He explains that the most common reason for back pain is disc degeneration, which can happen due to various reasons, whether trauma, poor posture, smoking, obesity, age or wear and tear of the spine.
“It is more common among post-menopausal women in their fifties, but more young people are getting spine problems these days,” says Dr Cheok.
As the nervous system controls movement and coordination, any injury or damage can be severe, sometimes resulting in paralysis or debilitating pain. This is the reason why most people with slipped discs, spinal cord injury or degeneration tend to avoid spine surgery, for fear of being paralysed in the event of a mishap during surgery.
Their fear is not totally unfounded, says Dr Cheok.
“Traditionally, spine surgery is done either from the front or the back of the body. These surgeries cause substantial disruption to the surrounding muscles, bones and ligaments, increasing the risks of pain and loss of sensation to affected body parts,” he explains.
THE X-LIF ADVANTAGE
In the recent years, the launch of newer advances in spine surgery has brought much hope to patients who need spine reconstruction. The X-Lif (Extreme Lateral Interbody Fusion), for instance, is a revolutionary spine surgery that is less invasive, has faster recovery period and shorter hospitalisation.
The main advantage of X-Lif is that it is minimally invasive, explains Dr Cheok.
Instead of large incisions at the back that are done with traditional methods, surgeons only need to make two small little holes (1- 4 cm wide) at the side of the patient to access the spine in what is known as keyhole surgery.
The smaller incisions are so much safer than before because blood loss is so minimal. Using a spinal nerve monitoring technology called Neurovision, surgeons have accurate, real time feedback about your nerve condition and function, hence drastically reducing the risks of nerve injury.
PREPARING FOR SURGERY
Before recommending surgery, you will first be assessed to determine whether your condition can be resolved with non-surgical treatment such as medications or physiotherapy.
If surgery is recommended, your surgeon will assess whether you are a suitable candidate for the X-Lif procedure. Generally, the X-Lif can only be conducted on patients with lumbar spine problems that are closest to the side of the body. The procedure is safe to be done on patients with well-controlled diabetes, heart problems or hypertension.
Your surgeon will usually request for x-rays, MRI or CT-scan results that can help with your treatment plan.
Surgery takes around 1-3 hours, with each disc level taking up to 45 minutes. Hospitalisation is between 2-3 days, compared to 3-5 days for conventional surgery.
Most patients can begin driving, light exercises, office work and sexual activity within two weeks, compared to 5-6 months with conventional spine surgery.
“This procedure has revolutionised the way spine surgery works and we are very excited about its potential. What is most amazing is how fast patients recover- the lack of pain and immobility that patients previously had to endure,” said Dr Cheok.
The X-Lif spinal surgery is only available at several hospitals such as Penang Adventist Hospital, Sri Kota Medical Centre and Sime Darby Medical Centre.