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In many ways, social media such as Facebook and Twitter are more a blessing than a curse for healthcare. Just ask Cheryl Zapata, Chief Development Officer at Texas Back Institute. Each week, more and more of her professional hours are spent researching the ways social media can help the physicians and professional staff of this 36-year old practice continue to deliver world class spine care.

While many, if not most, individuals use Facebook to LIKE the latest movie or keep up with the activities of friends and YouTube to see the latest TV show or music video, a medical practice such as Texas Back Institute has more serious, long-range goals for these revolutionary communication tools.

These plans are being formulated in the context of strict adherence to patient care and privacy. While the social media objectives of Texas Back Institute are quite serious, the brilliance of these social media and the reason for their meteoric rise in popularity among almost every age group partially lies in their informal and fun presentation of vast amounts of content. In the social media world, content is indeed king.

The executive team and physicians at Texas Back Institute recognize the amazing power for health information and patient-centered care social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs can deliver. There has never been a more powerful healthcare communication tool than social media as a few quick examples will suggest.

Social Media is Affecting Healthcare Now

The foundation of social media is a very powerful form of crowdsourcing.  This term, coined in 2006, is defined by several online dictionaries as the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community. It combines the efforts of “crowds” of self-identified volunteers, workers, friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter where each one on their own initiative adds a small portion that combines into a greater result.

Healthcare has many examples where the crowdsourcing aspect of social media enabled meaningful data for patient care. Epidemiology, which is the study of patterns and causes of illness and diseases among a given group, has used social media to solve healthcare mysteries in several, high profile cases.

For example, the July 18, 2013, edition of Clinical Infectious Diseases, it was noted  Facebook users in Minnesota were able to identify tainted food as the source of a strep throat outbreak. The outbreak affected 18 of 63 attendees at a banquet and after seeing multiple posts about team members falling ill, a parent alerted the Minnesota Health Department which conducted phone interviews and analyzed DNA from strep samples eventually determining the source of the illness was a pasta dish at the banquet.    

This was not the first case solved by social media. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health used social media to trace an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease at a trade conference held at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles in 2011. Last year, a social media-public health company called “Sickweather” accurately predicted the 2012 flu season six months in advance of the Center for Disease Control by using social media trend tracking. Clearly, social media is already involved in the delivery of healthcare.

Building a Community with Social Media

Many physicians, hospitals, clinics and healthcare executives are extremely mindful and even concerned about inappropriate use of social media by healthcare professionals. This causes a reluctance to embrace these tools. However, the fact remains these media are already being used to positively impact patient outcomes and they may be the most powerful tools to date for the practice of medicine.

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Cheryl Zapata believes when the medical practice goals and business practices of Texas Back Institute are properly aligned with social media, positive patient outcomes can occur. “The big thing social media can do for our practice is to build a community, where everyone – the patients, physicians and professional staff – is focused on patient care, pre-surgical education, preventative health practices and post-surgical therapy.”

She continued by noting, “We want our patients, our physicians and staff to be a part of something important. This community can be informed and built by timely and relevant social media content and we can glean insights about better patient care by monitoring these social media. Social media platforms are robust and extremely user friendly and it’s incumbent on us to take advantage of these communication tools.”

“We want more conversations among our physicians and patients, not less,” she noted. “And we want our physicians to be comfortable with the transparency social media affords.”

Even this blog you are reading is a part of the Texas Back Institute’s commitment to community building. “We focus considerable resources on building the ‘smart content’ in this blog which is updated every week and often several times per week. We want to be a part of the conversation our patients, physicians and staff are having. Perhaps this involves a blog post dealing “water cooler conversations” – sports injuries, news or technology – and how this topic relates to back injuries and health. If so, all the better.  We want to be relevant, accurate, timely and sometime entertaining.”

Post Your Comment

Texas Back Institute has built an international reputation through its leading-edge medical advances. For example, artificial disc replacement procedures were pioneered by the physicians at Texas Back Institute and it helped introduce this technology to the U.S. This same, innovative spirit is evident in the social media plans for organization.

The next time you see a YouTube video of information about post-surgical recovery of one our patients or a blog post about the back injuries and recoveries of Major League Baseball players; don’t forget to post a comment. We want to know what you’re thinking and how we can make this community even better!

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The fact that June 5th was National Running Day was lost on many people. Why? The joints and muscles of most individuals are not flexible or strong enough to take the pounding that running requires. However, almost anyone can walk and this exercise seems to be as effective as running. There’s even recent research that proves this.

In April 2013, Paul Williams of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and Paul Thompson of Hartford Hospital in Connecticut compared 33,060 runners to 15,045 walkers and found that it’s how much a person exercises, in terms of energy spent, not how long he or she spends exercising. While it takes longer to walk a mile than to run one, when these two exercises compared in terms of energy expended, they are comparable yielding the same benefit.

The researchers measured blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol at the beginning, and then watched for six years to see who got diagnosed with high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol or diabetes. Those who exercised equally (in terms of energy output) got the same benefit whether they ran or walked. This study was published in the American Heart Association journal, “Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.”

In addition to these physical benefits, walking lowers stress levels in most people. A study at the Department of Behavioral Science at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center showed university students who walked had lower stress levels than sedentary people or even those who exercised strenuously. Plus, walking can be done almost anywhere – on the street, in a park or in a shopping center.

Is Back Pain Keeping You From Walking Tall?

With all of these benefits, why isn’t everyone walking every day? Sometimes, back pain precludes this activity. This is where the spine specialists at Texas Back Institute can be of assistance. We spoke with Dr. Stephen Tolhurst, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute about the benefits and challenges of a regular walking program.

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To watch a video interview of Dr. Tolhurst explaining the benefits of walking for the back, please click here. 

Are there benefits to back health that are derived from a regular regimen of walking? If so, what are these?

Walking improves one’s overall health and this affects the whole body including the back and neck. The back tends to be healthier and less susceptible to injury and/or disease such as arthritis when an individual is active. Additionally, walking can help to keep the core muscles – abdominals, back and legs – stronger and this supports the back and neck.

What are some lower back problems that can keep someone from walking and how does one know when these pains are serious enough to visit the physicians at Texas Back Institute?

There is a condition called spinal stenosis, which is an abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal that can occur in any of the regions of the spine. This narrowing causes a restriction to the spinal canal, resulting in a neurological deficit. The symptoms of spinal stenosis include pain, numbness and loss of motor control. The location of the stenosis determines which area of the body is affected. This can cause a “rubbery” feeling around the leg when walking. This condition is serious and should be treated by a spine specialist.

There are also situations where pain shoots down one’s leg when standing or walking. This could be caused by a herniated disc or pinched nerve and should also be treated by someone on our staff.

However, mild to moderate back pain or stiffness during or after walking is usually not serious. If the pain is not getting worse, it’s probably safe to work through. In fact, the exercise from walking will likely help this pain and stiffness.

What are the most common factors that can cause lower back pain and keep someone from walking?

The number one factor is a sedentary lifestyle and the lack of regular activity. In this situation, core muscles are weak and walking can cause back pain. Obesity also plays a role in back pain and it’s no surprise regular physical activity can help to reduce obesity. Sleeping on awkward surfaces, such as a cot, floor or even a too-soft mattress, can cause back pain.

Some people experience “side stitches” when they walk. Is this a back problem or not?

Side stiches are not a back issue. While there are lots of theories on what causes them, no one is sure. They are not dangerous but they are annoying. When I’ve gotten them, I’ve used deep breathing techniques – after inhaling, breathing out through pursed lips to force the exhale – and this helps me. Stopping and stretching is also a tactic to use to work out this pain. Under any circumstances, this is not a sign of spinal problem.

How You Can Get Started

Just knowing the physical and psychological benefits of walking is not sufficient to motivate most people to “put on their walking shoes.” Texas Back Institute is involved in the specialized care of neck and back pain, spine trauma, scoliosis, artificial disc replacement and related spine surgery – not fitness counseling. However, we recognize physical fitness can have very positive effects on one’s back health.

With this in mind, here are a few fun suggestions to get you and your entire family involved in a daily walking program.

  • Bring along a walking buddy. This can be friends or family and if they’re excited about feeling better…all the better!
  • Walking has to be fun, otherwise it’s boring. Finding visually interesting places to walk such as trails in parks and greenbelts and then combining natural studies such as bird watching or tree/flower identification activities with your walking buddy.
  • Purchase an inexpensive pedometer, clip it to your waist and keep track of the miles you walk each day. Some of these steps will come from your daily activities. The average person’s stride length is approximately 2.5 feet long and this means it takes just over 2,000 steps to walk one mile, and 10,000 steps is close to 5 miles. Set a reasonable and attainable goal and then log your daily steps in a journal and try to add more steps each day.
  • Take the stairs whenever possible. Climbing stairs is a great aerobic exercise and when you take them, you’re not stuck in an elevator with 5 or 10 other people.
  • Get some tunes for your walk with your mobile device and ear buds. Music is a wonderful addition to any walking program because it not only distracts the walker from fatigue, but sports psychologists have noted that a steady beat can elevate a person’s performance by as much as 20%! In order to get you in the mood, why not download some tunes that have “Walking” in the title. Here are some:

Spring and summer is a great time for you to step up to a walking program. With this advice from Dr. Tolhurst you have some of the medical facts you need to get started. Now all you need is your walking buddy, pedometer and walking tunes and you’re good to go. Are you ready? Start walking.

Graduation

With the sound of “Pomp and Circumstance” ringing in their ears, the graduates of 2013 will be marching up to the stage and on to their future. There is a sense of accomplishment, pride and even relief at graduations because the participants feel they have completed something important. Texas Back Institute congratulates every graduate!

With graduations, it seems as if something has concluded, when in fact the term “commencement” suggests a beginning. This idea of “conclusion vs. commencement” has of course been employed by more than one valedictorian in their one, final address to their esteemed classmates.

Traditions of Graduation

This is the time of year when seniors in high school and college who have completed their courses successfully are awarded diplomas. This tradition goes back to the 11th Century when medieval colleges in Paris and Bologna reportedly began this practice.

Over the centuries, the traditions have evolved and changed, but many have remained remarkably similar to the original ceremonies. The students, who were known as apprentices in these early graduations, learned skills from the masters of the crafts and to note this accomplishment, they were give a “testimonial of skill,” now known as a degree.

The song that most of us associate with graduation ceremonies – “Pomp and Circumstance” – is a relatively new wrinkle on this ancient celebration. It was written by Sir Edward Elgar and first performed in Liverpool, England in 1901. Its melody, a combination of solemnity and dogged determination, is the perfect accompaniment to purposeful marching of the soon-to-be graduates.

Another interesting graduation ceremony tradition involves the attire of the honored matriculates. The cap and gown, which is worn by students and (in some cases) faculty, was once called a “hood” and this is believed to be dated back to ancient Celtic Groups. Capes and hoods were worn by the Druid priests to symbolize their higher intelligence.

What’s Next?   

After the music finally stops, the mortar boards are tossed and the diplomas are filed away, what happens then? The graduate – of high school or college – must commence the next stage of his or her life. For many, this means getting more education and beginning the process of deciphering how to spend the rest of one’s life.

Texas Back Institute is internationally known for its state of the art treatment of neck and back injuries, back pain, scoliosis, artificial disc replacement, occupational and sports medicine and its exemplary physical therapy practice. However, for the past 27 years, Texas Back Institute, led by one of the organization’s founding partners, Dr. Richard Guyer, has offered a select group of medical school residents a remarkable opportunity – a one-year fellowship to focus on spine surgery.

To anyone talking with Dr. Guyer about the Texas Back Institute fellowship program, it is immediately obvious that he is just as enthusiastic as the young doctors who are chosen for the program. Much like the master craftsmen who trained the apprentices in earliest institutions of learning, there is a commitment to teaching these future surgeons that goes beyond cursory. The doctors who emerge from this program are changed forever.

With his interest in teaching, we thought Dr. Guyer might be a good source of advice for graduates of any level – high school, college or graduate school. Here is that conversation.

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What areas of medicine will be in high-demand in the coming years?

There are so many opportunities in medicine, especially if a young man or woman is interested in computers, science or engineering. We’ve all read that more and more kids are interested in business, finance or high technology, but the opportunities in medicine are exploding. For example, the latest high tech robotic surgery equipment is still directed by a human who is a trained physician and many of the best practitioners of this specialty were video gamers when they were kids. Genetic engineering is going to be a very hot area of medicine in the coming years and this specialty requires a very analytical mind which many youngsters who are good at math and science possess.

If someone is graduating from college and accepted to medical school, what types of specialization might they consider for spine surgery or other specialties offered by Texas Back Institute?

When I first started in medicine, young physicians would spend a couple of years in medical school before they decided which specialty interested them. Things have changed a lot since then and now that decision is often made when they are in college. The types of procedures we do at Texas Back Institute involve a wide range of medicine. We handle spine surgery for both children and adults. Our doctors deal with trauma surgery which would be required for automobile accidents and other accidents. We treat injuries that are the result of aging – wear and tear damage. We also have quite a few sports injuries that our physicians treat. So you can see there is a wide range of opportunities just in the spine area.

How did the Texas Back Institute Fellowship program come about?

I’ve found that when you teach students, you learn as much as they do and I loved teaching. In the mid 80s, I approached my colleagues here and shared my passion about teaching. I mentioned that I’d really like to build a fellowship program here for residents who wanted to specialize in spine surgery. Since our beginning in 1986, we have trained more than 100 fellows and I have been the chairman of this program for 27 years. This keeps me young and sharp! We work hard at sharing the latest research and techniques about spine surgery for these young doctors and for everyone on the Texas Back Institute staff it is very gratifying when that light bulb comes on over the head of these talented young people.

How does the TBI fellowship program work?

These doctors have been through medical school and have completed their residency program. They find us through the network of former TBI fellows and through the American Academy of Orthopedic Medicine. Once they are accepted to the fellowship program, they work with all of the surgeons on our staff. They get hands-on training in deformative and degenerative medical issues, trauma, tumors and disc replacement surgery.

What are the criteria that Texas Back Institute uses to recruit new physicians to the practice? Does completing your fellowship help in gaining a position?

The last 4 or 5 physicians that we have hired have gone through the Texas Back Institute Fellowship program, so that suggests that there is an advantage of going through this training. When we recruit new doctors for our team, we look for a young woman or man with a high degree of intelligence, an excellent bedside manner, his or her ability to synthesize a large amount of information and apply it to treatment and most importantly we look for integrity.

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From Left to Right: Dr. Rey Bosita, Dr. Rajesh Arakal, Dr. Jack Zigler, Dr. Jason Sparks (Fellow), Dr. Richard Guyer, Dr. Ralph Rashbaum, Dr. Troy Morrison (Fellow), Dr. Kirill Ilalov (Fellow), Dr. Michael Duffy, Dr. Kenny Edwards (Fellow), Dr. Andrew Block, and Dr. Dan Bradley.

Successfully completing a course of study and celebrating this accomplishment with friends and family is one of life’s great pleasures. As speakers who are chosen to impart wisdom to a group of graduates are fond of noting, this ceremony is not the conclusion, it is the beginning. Congratulations to every graduate and their families. Now, let’s get busy!

iron-man-3-730x400The movie smash hit of the summer is Marvel’s Iron Man 3 and its popularity can be explained on several different levels. The “superhero” in this blockbuster flick is both physically and emotionally scarred, so in many ways, he’s just like you and me. Plus, the action and special effects are non-stop. This science fiction, where the lead character’s  human body part is replaced by an artificial part, is science fact at Texas Back Institute.  How so? Read on.

Artificial disc replacement, pioneered by several spine surgeons at Texas Back Institute, including Dr. Scott L. Blumenthal, is in many ways more futuristic than the suit of iron that brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark wears to heroic advantage in Iron Man 3. Before delving into the reasons for Stark’s angst and ultimate redemption, we asked Dr. Blumenthal to gives us some insights into the ways he and his colleagues are transforming patients in pain to Iron Men and Women.

Artificial Disc Replacement – Medical Fact not FantasyScott L. Blumenthal, M.D

In post-movie interviews fans of Iron Man 3 have said that one of their favorite aspects of the story is the blurring of science fiction and medical fact. Since you have taken a part of the body – the disc that cushions the spinal vertebra – and replaced it with one that is artificial and more durable, what are your thoughts about this advancement?

When I started in medical practice, we talked about the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man. For anyone younger than 30, this was a fictional story about a man who had been critically injured and had many of his organs, muscles and limbs replaced by much stronger artificial ones. At this point in medicine, this replacement of real with artificial body parts is becoming reality, not fantasy. For generations, spine surgeons have been fusing vertebra when the discs wear out or are damaged.  Our patients were constantly asking “Why can’t you just  replace it?” Well, after much development and testing, now we can. In patients who have back pain resulting from damaged disc we can replace it with one that is man-made.  My colleagues and I formed the Center for Disc Replacement and now the fantasy is going to be main stream medicine.

What enabled Texas Back Institute to be at the forefront of this procedure?

Our advantage came from our opportunity to do the FDA testing of this procedure here at our clinic. This procedure had been very popular in Europe for many years (before being considered in the U.S.) and many people with the resources to travel there, were getting the benefit of this technology by going over there. Because we were asked to assist in this testing, we were the first practice to be able develop protocols for the procedure. Our experience here far outweighed other physicians in this country. We started lumbar disc replacement and went on to cervical disc replacement. We discovered extensive evidence that strongly suggested artificial disc replacement speeded recovery, so our patients returned to work sooner. We found this procedure had better outcomes than fusion and the overall costs were less.

What brought about the development of the artificial disc?

It’s a combination of factors. There is substantial patient demand and the technology in the composition of the artificial discs is excellent and continues to get better than it was 12 years ago when we started. Plus, there is a measurable economic benefit to disc replacement as opposed to other procedures.

Do you mean there are economic benefits to patients in the form of cost vs. outcome?

Exactly. This is why the major insurance companies – not known for their investing in medical technology simply because it seems to be good technology – have decided to cover this procedure. They clearly have good data that proves the costs for artificial disc replacement are reasonable when outcomes, long-term recovery and the incidence of future problems are considered.

What other medical advancements – which may seem like science fiction now – do you see becoming medical fact in the immediate future?

I see stem cell therapy becoming an important new frontier for back surgery and specifically disc damage. Patients are looking for different, non-invasive ways to alleviate back pain and these stem cells – some harvested from the patients suffering from the pain – have the potential to change the way we treat damaged tissue.

Watch Dr. Blumenthal comment on technology and spinal care.


What Makes Iron Man 3 So Interesting?

As the advertising blurbs about Iron Man 3 note, “the movie pits brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark (also known as) Iron Man against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy’s hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible. This journey, at more »every turn, will test his mettle.” Whew! All that in about 2 hours!

As fans of the three movies know, the first of the Iron Man films revealed Stark as a clever, resourceful scientist-adventurer-tycoon who launched his super-character and super-suit while trying to escape from a platoon of Middle Eastern terrorists. This film was followed by a sequel called, Avengers , which did not receive the same level of enthusiastic critical review or box office support. However, the third installment – Iron Man 3 – has critics and, more importantly, paying customers, raving.

Part of the reason this current Iron Man saga has been so successful has to do with the evolution of the lead character played brilliantly by Robert Downey Jr. This star has had his own, well-chronicled personal challenges and the Tony Stark character he plays in the movie is experiencing many of these same – all too human – difficulties.

Iron Man 3 is replete with action, special effects and the superhero formula that seems to cure all boredom. However, the lead character spends less time in his iron suit, fighting bad guys and more time contemplating his place in the universe. One reviewer was on the mark when he noted Stark discovers the answer to the question that has been haunting him: Does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man?

Watch the Iron Man 3 trailer here.

Since Dr. Blumenthal and his colleagues at Texas Back Institute  are turning what was medical science fiction a few years ago into medical fact today, we had to ask him if he had a favorite superhero when he was growing up? His answer should give hope to those who don’t particularly care for Iron Man, but do long to go where no man has gone before!

Blumenthal notes, “Actually, I was not a big fan of superheroes. I’m more of a Trekkie. Fortunately, the new Star Trek – Into the Darkness opens tomorrow and I will be there!”

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The annual quest for the most recognizable coat in sports is on again and the green jacket with the “Augusta National Golf Club” logo is up for grabs at the Masters Golf tournament. Watching the best golfers in the world play this stunning course is enough to motivate scratch golfers and duffers alike to head over to the driving range or neighborhood golf course and hit a few. However, sometimes playing this game leads to some unintended consequences and the skills of the back experts at Texas Back Institute are needed.

Before getting into the occupational hazards that every pro golfer has had to deal with at one time or another – back pain – it’s interesting to offer PGA fans a quick look at the group of golfers whom the experts in the game think have the best chance of wearing that jacket. Some, such as Tiger Woods, are internationally known and others are just beginning to garner sports headlines.

Players to Watch at the Masters

Never underestimate the defending champ. Because Bubba Watson won 2012 Masters in spectacular fashion – in a sudden-death playoff with a remarkable, 140 yard hook shot – he will be confident and ready to repeat his feat. The others on the course will have something to say about this.

Another name being heard around the hallowed halls of Augusta as a potential Masters champ is Ian Poulter. He finished 7th in last year’s Masters but had golf fans around the world talking about his great play for the European Ryder Cup team.

Is Rory McIlroy the heir apparent to the king of the course – Tiger Wood? Some smart golfers say yes and many expect this 23- year old from Northern Ireland to be in battling with Wood during the entire tournament. Unless something unusual happens, look for McIlroy name near the top of the leaderboard.

Tiger Woods is on a roll, again and this makes him the odds-on favorite to win his 5th Masters tournament. He has won three of his last six tournaments, he obviously plays Augusta extremely well (largely because this course favors great putters like Woods) and his confidence seems rise when the limelight is on him.

Meet Pro Golfer Donnie Wood 

Even though there is no contact in the game of golf, the sport can wreak havoc with a player’s back. Just ask Donnie Wood.  He’s a player on the senior tour who came to Texas Back Institute several years ago in so much pain that he found it difficult to get out of bed, much less drive a golf ball.

Often, older golfers such as Donnie experience chronic back pain as a result of wear and tear on their vertebrae. In his case, the pad that acts as a “shock absorber” between these vertebrae bones, called a disc, was damaged from injury or repetitive wear.

“As recently as 12 years ago, someone suffering from chronic back pain that was caused by degenerated or injured discs had only one surgical option,” said Dr. Jack Zigler of the Texas Back Institute. “Spinal fusion was the only choice if non-surgical therapy didn’t fix the problem.”  All of that changed in 2000, when three surgeons at Texas Back Institute performed the first artificial disc replacement surgeries in U.S. Since then, these three innovative surgeons – Drs. Zigler, Blumenthal and Guyer – have performed more than 1600 artificial disc replacements.

Golf and Back Pain

With the Masters tournament putting the sport of golf on the minds of men and women players, we asked Dr. Zigler for some advice – not about his short or long game – about the causes of chronic back pain.

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What is it about a golf swing that irritates the back of someone with minor back pain?

Dr. Zigler said, “Rotation, or twisting of the spine, stresses all components (the discs, muscles, and ligaments) in directions that are not used in normal walking, standing, sitting, or even lifting activities. This is why a sweeping or mopping motion, even pulling bed sheets, are some of the first movements noted to be painful when we injure our backs. The golf swing requires a tremendous coiling and uncoiling of the trunk above a relatively stable pelvis, stretching strained structures on the backswing and then actively accelerating them through the power portion of the swing.”

When should someone who enjoys playing golf be concerned about back pain and when should they seek a medical opinion?

“Normal aches are common, particularly if one is only an occasional golfer. Taking some Ibuprofen or similar non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication and stretching very well before playing are the best safeguards. But even regular players can experience pain from overuse or over-straining of the back. With age, we all develop degenerative changes in our discs and recovery from minor injuries can take longer. Pain that persists despite a week or two of rest, or pain that occurs after every attempt at play should be evaluated. Similarly, any persistent arm or leg pain, numbness or tingling in the arms or legs, or any muscle weakness needs to be evaluated as soon as possible.”

Senior golfer Donnie Wood had a serious problem with his back, one that required artificial disc replacement. What caused this disc damage?

“As we all age, the structure of our discs, muscles, and ligaments in the spine change. There is a loss of water content and a change in the molecules of the proteins and sugars that are the structural framework of our soft tissues. Layered on these age-related changes are the small repetitive injuries that occur throughout our lives. These cumulative degenerative changes result in a stiffer, less forgiving disc that loses much of its shock absorber ability, and is less resilient to further stress and injury. Donnie’s disc had worn to a point that would not allow him to use his back the way he wanted without resulting in increased pain and protective muscle spasm. With no ability for the disc to heal itself, his options were to cut back on his activity (his work as well as golf, neither of which was a reasonable option for him) or to consider surgery. A fusion might relieve his pain nearly as well as an artificial disc, but it would put even more stress on the other segments of his spine. Disc replacement was a terrific option for Donnie,” Dr. Zigler concluded.

What did Donnie need to do after the operation (for rehab) in order to get back into golf-shape?

“For the first few weeks, he did a lot of walking so his muscles could recover from the surgery, and his artificial disc could heal to the bone in his spine. After 4 weeks or so, gentle range-of-motion exercise and stretching were done. Three to four weeks after that, core strengthening exercises were started and progressively increased. For most golfers, stretching and core strengthening are the keys to getting back into golf shape. The same strategy is used after disc replacement. I usually allow golfers to start putting at 4-6 weeks, chipping at 8-10 weeks, and start taking full swings at 10-12 weeks after surgery.”

He’s Back in the Swing

The mechanics of swinging a golf club can cause serious pain when a vertebrae disc is damaged. Fortunately, there are alternatives available to professional and weekend golfers. Here’s how Donnie Wood sees it.

Top Photo credit: Flckr Creative Commons Pocketwiley

All others: Texas Back Institute

Dr. Scott Blumenthal was the first Orthopedic Spine Surgeon in the US to perform an Artificial Disc Replacement (ADR) surgery. This life changing surgery has now helped over 1,400 Texas Back Institute patients. Recently SpineUniverse.com featured the blog post below about the choosing the right spine surgeon for you.

Choosing the Spine Surgeon Who Is Right for You

Patients often wonder how to choose a spine surgeon to perform their total disc replacement.

The easy answer to this question is simple:  carefully.

The longer answer to this question is:  do your research, both on your surgeon and on the procedure.

Tips for Choosing a Spine Surgeon for Disc Replacement
While thousands of surgeons have been trained in disc replacement techniques, very few have adopted it into their clinical practice with any regularity.

Certainly, the bare minimum requirements for choosing a surgeon would be to ensure he/she is a board certified or board eligible orthopedic or neurosurgical spine surgeon.  “Board certified” means that the doctor has gone through a rigorous testing and peer evaluation process by a specialized medical board.

You can ask your doctor if he/she is board certified, or you can research it online.

Some tips to get a better feel for the expertise of the surgeon are:

  • Ask how long he/she has been performing disc replacement surgery and with what frequency they do this procedure.
  • Make sure your surgeon performs many types of surgery and can tailor your treatment to be most appropriate for your condition. Not every patient is best served with a spinal fusion, nor is every patient best served with disc replacement.
  • Make sure you have open communication with your physician.
  • Make sure you trust and have confidence in your surgeon’s abilities.
  • Look at the surgeon’s academic credentials or published papers.  Find out what they have written on disc replacement and if they are leaders in this specialized area of spine care.

A warning to patients:  Don’t depend on fancy advertising or marketing when choosing a surgeon.  Use all your resources when making a decision this critical. The Internet, medical directories and societies, as well as your regular physician can all be great resources in helping you decide which surgeon to go to.

There are also additional resources such as patient chat rooms and blogs where you can read about other patients’ experiences with surgeons.

Choosing a spine surgeon is a very important decision, and the more facts you can get, the better. Luckily, there are many resources to help you find a spine surgeon who is right for you.

1st US Service Member to Receive Artificial Disc Celebrates 8 Years Pain-Free

He was a U.S. Marine on Active Duty, planning a career as a Naval Aviator, when a herniated disc stopped everything. Alex Fender saw all his plans postponed, then stopped indefinitely, as physicians repeatedly told him that he would be ‘medically retired’ from the Corps at the age of 21. It was a prediction he refused to accept.

In 2004, Fender met Dr. Scott Blumenthal, a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute in Plano. After the initial exam, Dr. Blumenthal suggested an artificial disc, which was a new procedure at the time.

Artificial Disc Replacement had just recently been FDA approved back then,” says Dr. Blumenthal, “I had exceptional outcomes since performing the first disc replacement in the US and I knew Alex would be a good candidate for this procedure.”

Fender was up and walking pain-free hours after his surgery. He had no complications, served four more years on Active Duty, and was honorably discharged in 2008.

Today, Fender is a successful entrepreneur in Dallas. He now serves as CEO of Funnel Science, an internet marketing and SEO agency.

“Staying healthy is objective number one,” says Fender. “You can’t get on with your life if you’re not able to get up and go to work. Texas Back Institute gave me that opportunity, and I’m glad to be an example of how well this surgery works.”

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