Spinal surgery explained
Spinal Surgery is a specialist part of orthopaedics.
It involves delicate surgery beside the main nerve which carries all the information from the brain to the legs, bladder etc– called the spinal cord.
The spinal cord is encased for its protection in a bony canal– the spinal column or spine– from when it leaves the brain at the back of the skull, passes down the neck & back until it reaches below the pelvis. The spinal nerves exit out of the spinal cord at each bone (vertebral) joint along the spine– these nerves supply the instructions from the brain to the muscle of the body (e.g. for walking), and also conduct information from the body back to the brain (e.g. pain, heat sensation in the toes) a little like a computer cable.
So you can see any disruption in the nerves ability to conduct will have major consequences– the most common reason the nerves stop functioning is because something is pressing on them and causing compression— for example– disc prolapse / slipped disc, spinal cord swelling, tumour, fractures of the spine, and growth/ developmental defects.
What is a Myelogram?
In order to locate the site of spinal cord compression we perform a specialist x-ray technique called myelography which is carried out under general anaesthesia– this involves carefully injecting a clear sterile solution into the space along side the spinal cord. This solution runs by gravity along the spinal cord and stops or deviates at the site of the problem, allowing us to know where exactly to surgically relieve the compression on the spinal cord.
What are the symptoms of spinal cord injury or disease?
The symptoms: These include back pain in most cases, difficulty walking, to poor balance, through to total paralysis and no feeling in the legs. It can affect just the hindlegs or all four legs, or in some unusual cases one limb or one side- right or left.
What is involved in the Spinal Surgery operation?
Most spinal surgery performed is for disc disease or disc prolapse. Because the spinal cord is encased in bone we have to use specialist equipment to burr a window through the spinal bone to reach the compressed portion of cord without damaging the cord itself which lies immediately below the inner surface of the bone. The cord is inspected and any material pressing on it is removed. Most cases make good improvement after surgery provided the cord has not be severely injured during a road traffic accident or permanently damaged by severe pressure from a disc injury. Long standing spinal cord compression (chronic compression) prior to surgery can have a less favourable outcome.
Surgery is also performed in cases which require implants to stabilise or fuse sections of the spinal column such as CCSM/ wobblers disease, certain types of disc prolapse and lumbo-sacral disease
Spinal Surgery however MUST be carried out quickly if the dog or cat is paralysed, if a return to walking again is to be expected. Due to the specialist nature of this surgery and the expense of the equipment required, spinal surgery is expensive, and is again why we recommend pet health insurance for these unexpected events.
Sooty- a very special case
Sooty 6 days post surgery for
complete hind leg paralysis
Sooty in 2002 :1 month post spinal surgery for complete hind leg paralysis and fully recovered.
Sooty was Ewing's first spinal surgical case, performed in 2002. Since then, Ewing has successfully operated on several hundred spinal cases with excellent recovery rates (>90%).
Sooty visited us many times over the years and lived a very active and full life with no recurrences of spinal disease.