People who are candidates for spinal fusion surgery usually have a history of back pain, tingling, or numbness due to conditions such as a slipped disc, nerve damage, or arthritis. When other remedies fail, they may consider vertebral fusion, where a diseased or damaged vertebrae nucleus is removed and two or more vertebrae are fused together.
Until recently, surgeons preparing vertebrae for fusion manually scraped away the soft tissue, or nucleus, inside the bone. Removing this material is important to a successful fusion—the process of the bones growing together in the months after surgery. Taking out as much nucleus and cartilage as possible leads to better fusion rates, says Christine Horton, a board member for CoreSpine Technologies, a medical device company in Minnetonka.
CoreSpine’s Xtend-ST (soft tissue) removal device allows surgeons to remove more damaged vertebrae nucleus than the traditional scraper tool. The Xtend-ST has a flexible, 120-degree articulated tip to remove tissue from hard-to-reach places in the kidney bean–shaped vertebrae nucleus. The device has a trigger that can be operated with one hand, allowing surgeons to keep one hand free; the device is turned on and off using a foot pedal. After the nucleus is removed, a cage or other scaffolding-type structure is placed in the vertebrae to stabilize the bone, allowing bone to grown throughout the structure and fusing the vertebrae together.
Horton likens the need to completely remove the damaged tissue to getting a cavity filled. “When you have a cavity, you expect your dentist to remove that disease before he fills it with something new,” she says. When the nucleus tissue is completely removed from the vertebrae, patients heal more quickly and their fusions are more solid.