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Robert F. Heary

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Evaluation and treatment of adult spinal deformity

Invited submission from the Joint Section Meeting on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves, March 2004

Robert F. Heary

✓ Spinal deformity is a complex and dynamic process that occurs in both the sagittal and coronal planes of the thoracolumbar spine. Successful treatment is aimed at achieving satisfactory balance in both of these planes. The spinal curvatures in the adult differ greatly from those in adolescents. As a general rule the adult curves tend to be stiffer, whereas adolescent curves are more flexible. In addition to cosmetic concerns, adult patients frequently present with pain and neurological symptoms in contrast to adolescents who usually do not experience this degree of pain or neurological symptoms. The treatment of adult spinal deformity differs substantially from that of adolescent deformity. Surgeries in the former tend to be more complex procedures associated with higher rates of intra- and perioperative complications. The goals of surgery in the adult are to obtain a solid fusion with a balanced spine, to relieve pain, and to prevent further deformity. A secondary goal is to correct the curve, and, in so doing, to improve the cosmetic appearance. In this review the author addresses the basic principles of spinal corrective surgery in the adult and provides insight into the varied treatment options available.

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Robert F. Heary and Reza J. Karimi

The authors describe a surgical technique for the correction of symptomatic degenerative lumbar scoliosis. Using a single, unilateral, interbody cage placed on the concave side of the coronal deformity, combined with a dorsal decompression and instrumented posterolateral fusion, this technique has resulted in excellent curve correction, fusion results, and clinical outcomes in a series of 4 patients. Each of these patients presented with intractable, axial low-back pain and symptomatic unilateral nerve root compression on the concave side of a lumbar scoliotic deformity. The management is described in detail.

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Robert F. Heary and Christopher M. Bono

Metastatic spinal tumors are the most common type of malignant lesions of the spine. Prompt diagnosis and identification of the primary malignancy is crucial to overall treatment. Numerous factors affect outcome including the nature of the primary cancer, the number of lesions, the presence of distant nonskeletal metastases, and the presence and/or severity of spinal cord compression. Initial management consists of chemotherapy, external beam radiotherapy, and external orthoses. Surgical intervention must be carefully considered in each case. Patients expected to live longer than 12 weeks should be considered as candidates for surgery. Indications for surgery include intractable pain, spinal cord compression, and the need for stabilization of impending pathological fractures. Whereas various surgical approaches have been advocated, anterior-approach surgery is the most accepted procedure for spinal cord decompression. Posterior approaches have also been used with success, but they require longer-length fusion. To obtain a stable fixation, the placement of instrumentation, in conjunction with judicious use of polymethylmethacrylate augmentation, is crucial. Preoperative embolization should be considered in patients with extremely vascular tumors such as renal cell carcinoma. Vertebroplasty, a newly described procedure in which the metastatic spinal lesions are treated via a percutaneous approach, may be indicated in selected cases of intractable pain caused by non- or minimally fractured vertebrae.

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Robert F. Heary and Christopher M. Bono

There are many options for the surgical treatment of lumbar spondylolisthesis, including anterior and posterior techniques. Among the most versatile is a 360° fusion. In consideration of the added risk of morbidity of two procedures, circumferential fusion leads to the highest fusion rates. This is particularly useful for patients at high risk for pseudarthrosis, such as patients with diabetes, posttransplant recipients, and those in whom fusion procedures have failed. Likewise, a 360° fusion may also be useful in achieving fusion in biomechanically disadvantageous situations, such as at the L5–S1 level or with high-grade subluxation. The options for 360° fusion are many and are determined, among other factors, by surgical pathology and surgeon preference. Standard open techniques are still considered the gold standard, although newer less invasive methods of circumferential fusion are being used more frequently. The operating surgeon must have a thorough knowledge of all available maneuvers for critical and effective decision making.

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Gaurav Gupta, Robert F. Heary and Jennifer Michaels

The importance of early surgery for tethered cord syndrome in the pediatric population is well established. Optimal treatment and prognosis of tethered cord in adults, on the other hand, is less clear. Some advocate a conservative approach in asymptomatic patients, while others recommend early detethering in all patients. For symptomatic patients, however, there is a consensus in favor of early surgery to prevent progression of neurological deficit. Many studies have reported cessation of neurological decline or reversal of recently acquired neurological deficits in patients with adult tethered cord syndrome. There are limited data in the literature about late surgery for the treatment of tethered spinal cords when the neurological deficits are longstanding. We report on a 37-year-old woman who demonstrated dramatic neurological improvement after surgical release of a tethered spinal cord more than 20 years after the onset of progressive neurological deficits.

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Robert F. Heary, Paul A. Anderson and Paul M. Arnold