If you’re suffering from chronic back pain, you’re not alone. An estimated 8% of all adults in the United States have reported chronic or persistent back pain that limits their regular activities.
Although back pain can often be managed with non-surgical treatment, severe chronic back pain caused by various spinal conditions may require spine surgery. Spine surgery can alleviate pressure on spinal nerves, correct deformities, and restore spinal stability.
Certain cases of spinal pain can be improved with the use of implants. In this article, we’ll discuss the types, applications, and benefits of spinal implants.
What Are Spinal Implants?
Spinal implants are defined as devices used in spinal surgery to provide stability, assist in spinal fusion, and help manage a range of spinal conditions.
There are a variety of materials that may be used to construct spinal implants. The most common materials include titanium, stainless steel, titanium alloy, and certain types of plastics. Titanium is often considered the material of choice for spinal implants because it’s durable yet lightweight.
Spinal implants are often separated into two categories: fusion and non-fusion.
Fusion implants are used for support in spinal fusion. This type of implant is used in conjunction with a bone graft to facilitate the fusion process.
Cages, rods, and plates are the most common types of fusion implants. These devices are often secured to the vertebrae with screws and hooks.
Implants that are used without bone graft material are often referred to as non-fusion implants. Non-fusion implants can be used to support and stabilize the spine without the need for fusion.
Artificial discs and expandable rods are two types of non-fusion implants. Generally, rods are used for the treatment of kids with severe scoliosis. Artificial discs can replace a damaged spinal disc to preserve the patient’s flexibility, relieve pain, and provide stability.
Non-fusion medical spine implants are a powerful tool in spinal procedures, including spondylolisthesis surgery. As spinal fusion alternatives, these implants can allow patients to regain a normal range of motion in the spine, as well as shorten their back surgery recovery.
Which Conditions Are Spinal Implants Used For?
Spinal implants can be used to improve the success of surgeries for many different conditions, the most common of which are:
Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease encompasses symptoms resulting from wear and tear on intervertebral discs. This condition generally occurs as a normal result of the aging process. Symptoms can include:
- Pain in the area of the back with the affected disc
- Back pain that worsens with bending, twisting, and lifting heavy objects
- Spinal instability, or a “giving out” feeling in the back
- Radiating pain to the buttocks and down the legs (for degenerative disc disease in the cervical spine, pain can radiate to the shoulder, arm, and hand)
- Spasms in the back muscles
Spinal stenosis is a condition that’s characterized by the constricting of space in the spinal canal. As the spaces in the spine shrink, the nerve roots and spinal cord can get compressed, leading to symptoms like back pain and weakness or tingling in the extremities.
Age-related spinal degeneration is the most common cause of spinal stenosis. Bone spurs from osteoarthritis, herniated disc, and thickened spinal ligaments are examples of age-related changes to the spine that can cause spinal stenosis.
Although many cases of spinal stenosis are effectively managed with non-surgical treatment, some patients require back surgery. Decompressive laminectomy, laminotomy, and laminoplasty with fusion or non-fusion implants are the most common surgical procedures for spinal stenosis.
Spondylolisthesis is a condition that occurs when one of the vertebrae in the back is displaced, sliding onto the bone beneath it. This happens as a result of spinal instability.
When a vertebra moves out of place, it can press on spinal nerves. This can lead to symptoms that include:
- Back pain
- Hamstring muscle spasms
- Tingling, weakness, or numbness in a foot
- Pain while walking, bending over, or standing for a long time
In young individuals, spondylolisthesis is generally caused by excessive stress on the spine, often during physical activity. However, genetic factors may increase your risk of spondylolisthesis.
Older individuals tend to get spondylolisthesis as a result of age-related spinal changes. As the cartilage, bones, and discs of the spine break down over time, instability (and, therefore, spondylolisthesis) becomes more prevalent.
Scoliosis is an abnormal curve of the spine. People may either be born with scoliosis or develop it from gradual spinal degeneration.
There’s an estimated incidence of spondylolisthesis in patients with scoliosis of 15% to 48%. People with scoliosis are generally more likely to develop spinal problems and experience symptoms of spinal nerve compression.
Patients with severe chronic back pain from scoliosis may need spinal surgery to relieve their symptoms. Implants may be used to facilitate the procedure.
Fractures to a spinal bone (vertebra) can create the need for spinal surgery. Vertebral fractures can be caused by auto accidents, significant falls, and sports injuries. Older individuals with osteoporosis, a form of bone loss, are at a higher risk of experiencing a spinal fracture.
A fractured vertebra can compress spinal nerves and require spinal decompression surgery. Spinal implants can be used to facilitate the procedure, with or without fusion.
Patients Who Can Benefit From Spinal Implants
People who may benefit from non-fusion spinal implants are generally:
- Experiencing chronic back pain due to spinal degeneration, a major vertebral fracture, or scoliosis
- Aren’t achieving relief after 6 months or more of non-surgical treatments, such as physical therapy, chiropractic care, steroid injections, pain medications, and lifestyle changes
- Interested in avoiding the risks and complications of spinal fusion
Unfortunately, spinal fusion comes with the risk of severely reduced back mobility, a recovery period of up to a year, and complications including adjacent segment disease. Non-fusion spinal implants are highly beneficial for patients who are candidates for non-fusion spine surgery and want to steer clear of the downsides of fusion.