Spine Surgeons in the Summer: 4 Things to Know

Laura Dyrda -   Print  |
Alan S. Hilibrand, MD, a spine surgeon with Rothman Institute in Philadelphia, discusses the trends and challenges for spine surgeons during the summer months. 1. Patient visits for chronic injuries decrease. Orthopedic surgeons often see a decrease in patient visits for chronic conditions in the summer because patients would rather spend the summer doing as much activity as possible and then undergo elective treatment or surgeries during the winter months. This is especially true for patients with chronic back pain because they've learned to live with the condition.

"The tough part about this trend is that the chronic problems are much more serious because they are related to degenerative conditions of the spine and could be treated non-operatively with relatively low acuity," says Dr. Hilibrand. Instead, if patients hold off for too long, they may develop serious conditions that may need more interventional care.

2. Be prepared for an increase in traumatic injury. The warm weather in most parts of the United States means there are more people participating in outdoor activities, which leads to an increase in traumatic injuries, says Dr. Hilibrand. "There are more motorcycle injuries and cervical spine injuries from diving and surfing accidents," he says. "Over the Fourth of July weekend, I had two patients who suffered injuries from being hit by waves while surfing and one needed an emergency operation."

Even though these injuries are often challenging to overcome, working with these patients can be fulfilling because surgeons are working to save them from permanent neurologic injury and paralysis.

3. Build a comprehensive team prepared for patients with traumatic injuries. When patients incur traumatic spine injuries, they will need more than just spine surgeons to provide their care. Building a comprehensive spinal cord injury center that includes a strong group of inpatient therapy specialists is important. "These specialists help the patients through to acute rehabilitation centers once they are cleared to leave the hospital," Dr. Hilibrand says. "We want to make sure all their medical needs are met throughout the recovery time."

Working with a group of several specialists and multiple surgeons is also helpful during the summer because surgeons will still be able to take vacations. Even though the traumatic injuries are unexpected and come at an increased rate during the summer months, a larger group will be able to provide coverage for surgeons while they are away.

4. Patient education to prevent injuries. Most of the patients who arrive at the hospital with traumatic spinal cord injuries have never had spine or back problems in the past, so it's difficult to spread the word about prevention among the appropriate potential patient population. However, there are a few public service campaigns aimed at educating the general public about safely participating in summertime activities. For example, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has run campaigns about techniques for avoiding diving, pool and surfing injuries, and cautions people against using all terrain vehicles inappropriately.

Learn more about Dr. Alan Hilibrand.

Related Articles on Spine Surgery:

Dr. Robert Rovner: 3 Points on a New Technique for Better Outcomes in Scoliosis Surgery

Dr. Michael Hasz: 5 Points on Artificial Disc Replacement
6 Things to Know About Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

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