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Generating alpha: can we prevent a back pain bubble?

John Paul G. Kolcun, Gregory W. Basil, Zoher Ghogawala, and Michael Y. Wang

Full access

The farmer and the hunter: a longitudinal philosophy of spine surgery

Gregory W. Basil, John Paul G. Kolcun, and Michael Y. Wang

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“Houston, we have a problem”: the difficulty of measuring outcomes in spinal surgery

Gregory W. Basil, Annelise C. Sprau, Zoher Ghogawala, Jang W. Yoon, and Michael Y. Wang

Open access

Large prevertebral hematoma and carotid pseudoaneurysm following percutaneous anterior cervical discectomy: illustrative case

Gregory W. Basil, Annelise C. Sprau, Robert M. Starke, Allan D. Levi, and Michael Y. Wang


The percutaneous, endoscope-assisted anterior cervical discectomy is a relatively new procedure, and because of its novelty, complications are minimal and pertinent literature is scarce. This approach relies on a sufficient anatomical understanding of the vital neurovascular structures in the operating workspace. Although complications are rare, they can be significant.


The patient presented with difficulty breathing following an anterior percutaneous cervical discectomy performed at an outpatient surgical center. Imaging revealed a prevertebral hematoma and multiple carotid pseudoaneurysms. Given the large prevertebral hematoma and concern for imminent airway collapse, the authors proceeded with emergent intubation and surgical evacuation of the clot.


The authors propose managing complications in a fashion similar to those for comparable injuries after classic anterior approaches. Definitive management of our patient’s carotid injury would require stenting and, therefore, dual antiplatelet agents. Thus, the authors proceeded with the hematoma evacuation first. Additionally, careful dissection was needed to decrease further carotid damage. Thus, the authors made a more rostral incision to maintain the given stability of the carotid insult before the angiographic intervention to follow. It is the authors’ hope that the technical pearls from this two-staged open hematoma evacuation and endovascular stenting may guide future presurgical and intraoperative planning and management of complications, should they arise.

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Endoscopic transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion without general anesthesia: operative and clinical outcomes in 100 consecutive patients with a minimum 1-year follow-up

John Paul G. Kolcun, G. Damian Brusko, Gregory W. Basil, Richard Epstein, and Michael Y. Wang


Open spinal fusion surgery is often associated with significant blood loss, postoperative pain, and prolonged recovery times. Seeking to minimize surgical and perioperative morbidity, the authors adopted an endoscopic minimally invasive transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (MIS-TLIF) technique performed without general anesthesia. In this report, they present data on the first 100 patients treated with this procedure.


The authors conducted a retrospective review of the first 100 patients who underwent awake endoscopic MIS-TLIF at a single institution between 2014 and 2017. Surgery was performed while the patient was sedated but without intubation or the use of general anesthetic or narcotic agents. Long-lasting (liposomal) bupivacaine was used for local analgesia. The discectomy and placement of an expandable interbody graft were performed endoscopically, followed by percutaneous pedicle screw implantation. Inclusion criteria for the procedure consisted of diagnosis of degenerative disc disease with grade I or II spondylolisthesis and evidence of spinal stenosis or nerve impingement with intractable symptomatology.


Of the first 100 patients, 56 were female and 44 were male. Single-level fusion was performed in 84 patients and two-level fusion in 16 patients. The most commonly fused level was L4–5, representing 77% of all fused levels. The mean (± standard deviation) operative time was 84.5 ± 21.7 minutes for one-level fusions and 128.1 ± 48.6 minutes for two-level procedures. The mean intraoperative blood loss was 65.4 ± 76.6 ml for one-level fusions and 74.7 ± 33.6 ml for two-level fusions. The mean length of hospital stay was 1.4 ± 1.0 days. Four deaths occurred in the 100 patients; all four of those patients died from complications unrelated to surgery. In 82% of the surviving patients, 1-year follow-up Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) data were available. The mean preoperative ODI score was 29.6 ± 15.3 and the mean postoperative ODI score was 17.2 ± 16.9, which represents a significant mean reduction in the ODI score of −12.3 using a two-tailed paired t-test (p = 0.000001). In four cases, the surgical plan was revised to include general endotracheal anesthesia intraoperatively and was successfully completed. Other complications included two cases of cage migration, one case of osteomyelitis, and one case of endplate fracture; three of these complications occurred in the first 50 cases.


This series of the first 100 patients to undergo awake endoscopic MIS-TLIF demonstrates outcomes comparable to those reported in our earlier papers. This procedure can provide a safe and efficacious option for lumbar fusion with less morbidity than open surgery. Further refinements in surgical technique and technologies will allow for improved success.

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Data-driven phenotyping of preoperative functional decline patterns in patients undergoing lumbar decompression and lumbar fusion using smartphone accelerometry

Hasan S. Ahmad, Shikha Singh, Kenneth Jiao, Gregory W. Basil, Andrew I. Yang, Michael Y. Wang, William C. Welch, and Jang W. Yoon


Treatment of degenerative lumbar spine pathologies typically escalates to surgical intervention when symptoms begin to significantly impair patients’ functional status. Currently, surgeons rely on subjective patient assessments through patient-reported outcome measures to estimate the decline in patient wellness and quality of life. In this analysis, the authors sought to use smartphone-based accelerometry data to provide an objective, continuous measurement of physical activity that might aid in effective characterization of preoperative functional decline in different lumbar spine surgical indications.


Up to 1 year of preoperative activity data (steps taken per day) from 14 patients who underwent lumbar decompression and 15 patients who underwent endoscopic lumbar fusion were retrospectively extracted from patient smartphones. A data-driven algorithm was constructed based on 10,585 unique activity data points to identify and characterize the functional decline of patients preceding surgical intervention. Algorithmic estimation of functional decline onset was compared with reported symptom onset in clinical documentation across patients who presented acutely (≤ 5 months of symptoms) or chronically (> 5 months of symptoms).


The newly created algorithm identified a statistically significant decrease in physical activity during measured periods of functional decline (p = 0.0020). To account for the distinct clinical presentation phenotypes of patients requiring lumbar decompression (71.4% acute and 28.6% chronic) and those requiring lumbar fusion (6.7% acute and 93.3% chronic), a variable threshold for detecting clinically significant reduced physical activity was implemented. The algorithm characterized functional decline (i.e., acute or chronic presentation) in patients who underwent lumbar decompression with 100% accuracy (sensitivity 100% and specificity 100%), while characterization of patients who underwent lumbar fusion was less effective (accuracy 26.7%, sensitivity 21.4%, and specificity 100%). Adopting a less-permissive detection threshold in patients who underwent lumbar fusion, which rendered the algorithm robust to minor fluctuations above or below the chronically decreased level of preoperative activity in most of those patients, increased functional decline classification accuracy of patients who underwent lumbar fusion to 66.7% (sensitivity 64.3% and specificity 100%).


In this study, the authors found that smartphone-based accelerometer data successfully characterized functional decline in patients with degenerative lumbar spine pathologies. The accuracy and sensitivity of functional decline detection were much lower when using non–surgery-specific detection thresholds, indicating the effectiveness of smartphone-based mobility analysis in characterizing the unique physical activity fingerprints of different lumbar surgical indications. The results of this study highlight the potential of using activity data to detect symptom onset and functional decline in patients, enabling earlier diagnosis and improved prognostication.

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Defining the minimal clinically important difference in smartphone-based mobility after spine surgery: correlation of survey questionnaire to mobility data

Presented at the 2023 AANS/CNS Joint Section on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves

Daksh Chauhan, Hasan S. Ahmad, Robert Subtirelu, Sai Mannam, Ryan Turlip, Kevin Bryan, Shreya Bathula, Yohannes Ghenbot, Andrew I. Yang, Michael Y. Wang, Gregory Basil, Zarina S. Ali, and Jang W. Yoon


Patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs) are the gold standard for assessing postoperative outcomes in spine surgery. However, PROMs are also limited by the inherent subjectivity of self-reported qualitative data. Recent literature has highlighted the utility of patient mobility data streamed from smartphone accelerometers as an objective measure of functional outcomes and complement to traditional PROMs. Still, for activity-based data to supplement existing PROMs, they must be validated against current metrics. In this study, the authors assessed the relationships and concordance between longitudinal smartphone-based mobility data and PROMs.


Patients receiving laminectomy (n = 21) or fusion (n = 10) between 2017 and 2022 were retrospectively included. Activity data (steps-per-day count) recorded in the Apple Health mobile application over a 2-year perioperative window were extracted and subsequently normalized to allow for intersubject comparison. PROMS, including the visual analog scale (VAS), Patient Reported Outcome Measurement Information System Pain Interference (PROMIS-PI), Oswestry Disability Index (ODI), and EQ-5D, collected at the preoperative and 6-week postoperative visits were retrospectively extracted from the electronic medical record. Correlations between PROMs and patient mobility were assessed and compared between patients who did and those who did not achieve the established minimal clinically important difference (MCID) for each measure.


A total of 31 patients receiving laminectomy (n = 21) or fusion (n = 10) were included. Change between preoperative and 6-week postoperative VAS and PROMIS-PI scores demonstrated moderate (r = −0.46) and strong (r = −0.74) inverse correlations, respectively, with changes in normalized steps-per-day count. In cohorts of patients who achieved PROMIS-PI MCID postoperatively, indicating subjective improvement in pain, there was a 0.784 standard deviation increase in normalized steps per day, representing a 56.5% improvement (p = 0.027). Patients who did achieve the MCID of improvement in either PROMIS-PI or VAS after surgery were more likely to experience an earlier sustained improvement in physical activity commensurate to or greater than their preoperative baseline (p = 2.98 × 10−18) than non-MCID patients.


This study demonstrates a strong correlation between changes in mobility data extracted from patient smartphones and changes in PROMs following spine surgery. Further elucidating this relationship will allow for more robust supplementation of existing spine outcome measure tools with analyzed objective activity data.

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Oral Presentations

2010 AANS Annual Meeting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania May 1–5, 2010