Today, we live in a golden age of technological progress that has seen yesterday’s science fiction become today’s reality. Smartphones provide instant access to a world of information, computers can be activated by a human voice, and simply by clicking a few buttons on a screen, people from different parts of the world can interact face-to-face.
While these technological advances have made modern life more convenient, they are not without their drawbacks. Whether working on a computer or keeping up to date with their social networks on a Smartphone, people are adopting extremely bad posture for hours at a time. The inevitable results are spinal problems that can often require corrective surgery.
Many of the problems that occur in the spine are caused by the process of degeneration. When people move or perform an action, the spine supports their weight. Over time, repeated daily stresses can add up and begin to affect the discs in the spine. The cervical spine is much more mobile than both of the other segments of the spine. There is movement at this joint whenever people nod, shake or bend their head forward to operate a smartphone or tablet several hours a day. If you’re reading this article on a smartphone or tablet, please lift your head up immediately. I’ll let you know the reason now.
Excessive movement, pressure and weight support can cause injury to 3 parts in the spine, which are the discs and 2 facet joints located at the top of the spine. These 3 parts help give the spine mobility and movement. When the discs or facet joints degenerate, there will be less flexibility and the joints will then increase in strength by becoming larger due to a natural repair response. The problem occurs when the joints become too large and start to damage peripheral nerves, causing pain that radiates down the arms and even leading to numbness in severe cases. I’ll explain about this mechanism in more detail in the next article.
Generally, as people age, the spine begins to degenerate from normal wear and tear. However, the negative side of a modern lifestyle is that degeneration can also occur in young people at a much earlier age than was seen before the technological revolution. I once performed surgery for a 26 year-old nurse who talked to her boyfriend on the phone several hours a day by cradling the phone in the gap between her neck and shoulder, her head bent over to hold it. After several months, she developed a herniated disc that needed surgery. Bending the head forward to operate a smartphone or tablet for a long period of time is no different because the repeated excessive pressure to the disc can also cause early degeneration.
So how does a surgeon treat these conditions? The aim is to relieve pressure on the nerve root in patients with a herniated disc or large joints affecting peripheral nerves. In traditional open surgery, the surgeon makes an incision, the size of which depends on each patient’s body size. The surgeon then removes the muscles so that he can see the spine. Next, he removes the herniated disc to relieve the pressure on the nerves.
Fortunately, just as advances in modern technology have caused an increase in spinal problems, advances in the field of medical technology have provided a solution. The development of surgical instruments that make smaller incisions has led to improved patient safety and shorter recovery times. Previously, surgical incisions were large and post-op recovery could mean a long and often worrying time spent in hospital. Today, endoscopic surgery means that very small incisions of as small as 7.9 mm are sufficient. This represents an incredible breakthrough in spinal surgery. Following endoscopic surgery, some patients have even asked me, “Have you performed the surgery yet? Where is the incision?”
To provide an analogy, traditional surgery is like tearing down a large part of a wall and walking through the gap to take what we want from inside a building. With an endoscopy, we make a small hole in the wall and use a long stick to reach inside the building and take what we want.
With the endoscopic approach, the incision is small and does not involve removing muscles, thereby reducing surgical pain and shortening the recovery time. After a half day, most patients can walk, return home and have a better quality of life. We doctors are happy to help patients lead a normal life again, but we are even happier when we can help you prevent the problem before it starts. So, it’s time to lift your head up!
To speak to one of our specialists about how endoscopic surgery could help you, or to make an appointment for an examination, click on the links below.
Authors : Dr. Withawin Kesornsak and Dr. Verapan Kuansongtham are spine surgeons at Bumrungrad’s Spine Institute.