When it comes to back pain and neck pain, surgery is often a treatment of last resort. Most back and neck problems respond to nonsurgical treatments, such as physical therapy, injection therapy or medication. But if other treatments haven’t been successful and pain remains persistent and debilitating, surgery may be an option.
One type of surgery is spinal fusion, also known as stabilization surgery. Spinal fusion eliminates motion between two or more bones (vertebrae) in the spine by permanently connecting them. Metal plates, screws and rods may be used to hold the vertebrae together. By stopping movement in certain locations of the back or neck, fusion surgery may reduce painful symptoms.
A relatively new spinal surgery technique involves the use of a robot in the operating room. The robotic system guides a robotic arm to a predetermined position in the middle of the back (lumbar spine), upper back (thoracic spine) or neck (cervical spine). Under the guidance of a surgeon, the robotic arm inserts stabilizing screws into vertebrae at precise locations on the spine. This precision helps to reduce the risk that you’ll need additional surgery to reposition incorrectly placed screws. In the future, robotic guidance may be used in other types of spinal surgery as well.
In this video, Mohamad Bydon, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, discusses robotic guidance for the placement of spinal screws.
A version of this article appeared in Back and Neck Health: Mayo Clinic Guide to Treating and Preventing Back and Neck Pain, edited by Dr. Bydon.