New technique treats spinal fractures within an hour

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The James Cook University Hospital’s Spinal Surgery Unit has become the first in the region to use a one-step technique to fix spinal fractures.

The advanced procedure involves using a special instrument to insert multiple screws into the back through the skin with small stab incisions to stabilise the spine. This takes just one hour and most patients are then well enough to go home the next day.

Traditionally patients had to undergo open surgery which involved a big cut in the lower back and moving the muscles on both sides to access the spine. This took up to four hours and caused a lot of trauma to the surrounding tissue, which often left people in a lot of pain throughout their recovery and prolonged their hospital stay.

More recently minimally invasive techniques enabled the screws to be inserted through the skin under x-ray guidance using needles and guidewires to split the muscles. This reduced the procedure time to two to three hours while also reducing recovery times.

But the new VIPER PRIME™ System now being used at James Cook goes one step further, introducing a novel technique for inserting the screws which eliminates multiple steps and can be inserted within an hour, leaving most patients well enough to go home the next day.

Farooq Aziz and his theatre team

Farooq Aziz and his theatre team who were first to use the VIPER PRIME™ System at James Cook

Utilizing a new unique design, the screw is mounted on a surgical wire that is fully controlled by the screw inserter, neurosurgeons can target pedicles (stubs of bone on the vertebra) and insert the screw in one single step.

The quick process enables spinal neurosurgeons, such as Farooq Aziz, who was first to use the VIPER PRIME™ System at James Cook, to operate on more patients on any given day.

“There are no big cuts, just tiny stab incisions so there is less trauma to the muscles and only one night’s hospital stay required,” he said.

“The procedure can be completed in an hour and there are fewer instruments required so if I have a half day booked in theatre I now have time to add an extra patient to my list!”