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Vocabulary for Spinal & Skull Disorder Treatments

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  • 0:00 Spine and Skull Disorders
  • 0:48 Spine Treatments
  • 2:44 Skull Treatments
  • 5:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy teaches college physics, biology, and engineering and has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Surgical treatments for spine and skull disorders are some of the most commonly performed medical treatments. In this lesson, learn about all of the treatments that are available for disorders of the spine and skull.

Spine and Skull Disorders

Back pain is the most common medical condition in the United States, affecting about 40% of the population at some point during their lives and more than three million people each year. Although back pain can be caused by a variety of factors, disorders of the vertebrae, like herniated discs and compression fractures, are major contributing factors. In these cases, the best course of action is surgical treatment.

Surgical procedures on the skull are also commonly performed to correct skull defects due to trauma, and to access the brain to remove tumors, treat epilepsy and Parkinson's disease, and allow the brain to swell after injury or stroke. Let's go with two patients as they meet with their doctors and learn more about surgical treatments for spine and skull disorders.

Spine Treatments

First, let's meet George. George is a 45-year-old man who has been having back pain for some time, and it's bad enough that he's considering some surgical treatments.

He meets with his doctor to talk about the treatments that might help him. He finds out that back pain in young and middle-aged people like him is often caused by a herniated disc, which occurs when the cartilage disc between two vertebrae bulges outward and presses on the spinal cord or nerves, causing pain. Herniated discs are usually treated by a discectomy, which is a surgical procedure to remove the bulging disc. The intervertebral disc can be removed in an open surgical procedure or using a small catheter inserted through the skin in a minimally invasive procedure known as a percutaneous discectomy.

Herniated discs and other conditions can lead to spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of spinal cord space inside the vertebrae. This can cause pain and numbness and can be treated in a number of ways. One of these is a laminectomy, which is removal of part of a vertebrae, called the lamina, to relieve pressure on the spinal cord. Laminectomies can be performed alone or as part of a discectomy.

Other types of degenerative conditions, such as arthritis, are often treated with spinal fusion. Spinal fusion is a surgical procedure to fuse two adjacent vertebrae together to prevent motion between the vertebrae and reduce pain. The vertebrae are held together with metal rods or plates.

Back pain can also be caused by compression fractures in the vertebrae. These can be treated by injecting the fractured vertebrae with bone cement to strengthen them and, hopefully, relieve the pain. This procedure is called percutaneous vertebroplasty.

Compression fractures are more common in elderly people with osteoporosis, so George doesn't think that this is his problem. Based on his symptoms, his doctor thinks he has a herniated disc, so he will probably need to have a laminectomy and discectomy.

Skull Treatments

Our next patient is Michelle. Michelle has been having severe headaches and just found out that she has a tumor in her brain.

She needs to have surgery to remove the tumor, and she wants to learn more about the types of surgery that can be done on the skull. Her doctor told her that there are two similar procedures performed on the skull, called craniotomy and craniectomy.

A craniectomy is a procedure in which a part of the skull is surgically removed to allow a swelling brain to expand. This is usually performed after a brain injury or stroke when the brain is damaged and swelling. The bone removed from the skull is not replaced right away. Instead, the hole is left open to allow the brain room to swell.

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