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Winter 2007

Flexibility Added to Spine Surgery

A new device to treat spinal stenosis that allows movement of the spine is now offered at UCLA, one of only five centers in the nation participating in a pilot study.


Instead of permanently joining (fusing) vertebrae with metal rods and screws, and therefore restricting movement, the new procedure uses the Anatomic Facet Replacement System (AFRS) device that attaches to each of two adjacent vertebrae with a movable joint that mimics the spine's natural joint.

“Joining the vertebrae with the AFRS adds stability but does not impair mobility as spinal fusion does,” explains Jeffrey C. Wang, M.D., co-director of the UCLA Comprehensive Spine Center at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica.

Spinal stenosis occurs when narrowing in the spine puts pressure on the spinal cord or the nerves that attach to the spinal cord. The standard therapy is a decompression procedure in which bone is removed from the affected vertebra to make room for the spinal cord and nerves. This weakens the joint between vertebrae, and sometimes leads to the need for spinal fusion.

“Surgeons have always had to weigh the need for adequate nerve space against the risk of losing spine mobility when deciding how much bone to remove when treating spinal stenosis,” states Dr. Wang. “With AFRS, we can feel free to remove as much bone as necessary to treat the stenosis without having to balance that against the desire to avoid a fusion procedure.

” Because AFRS does not involve a bone graft, the procedure can be performed with a smaller incision than spinal fusion, resulting in less postoperative pain and a faster recovery. The AFRS procedure is reversible. If the patient’s condition worsens over time, the device can be removed and a spinal fusion performed.

To view the spinal surgery video in windows media format, go to streaming.uclahealth.org/spine


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