An orthopedic spine surgeon specializes in the treatment of spinal diseases and conditions and offers nonoperative and surgical treatment options to patients of all ages.
After completing medical school and completing an internship, these doctors enter an orthopedic surgery residency for 5 years, a rigorous and complex program covering all areas of orthopedics and orthopedic surgery. From there, they complete advanced training in a fellowship program for spine surgery.
An orthopedic spine surgeon is an expert with extensive training in the proper diagnosis and treatment of spinal diseases and conditions, some of which include degenerative disc disease, a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, sciatica, spinal deformity, vertebral fractures, osteoporosis, and whiplash. An orthopedic spine surgeon completes a fellowship in spine surgery, learning advanced spinal surgery techniques such as:
- Spinal Cord and Nerve Decompression
- Spinal Fusion
- Complex and Revision Fusion Surgery
- Microsurgery and Minimally Invasive Surgery
- Artificial Disc Replacement
In Dr. Ball’s practice, he specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of adult spine conditions and pediatric spine conditions. He was the Chief Resident and Pediatric Spine Fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital where he focused on pediatric trauma, hip dysplasia, and complex pediatric spinal deformity. He also completed a second spine fellowship in adult spine surgery at UCLA/St. John’s Medical Center under Dr. Rick Delamarter and Dr. Edgar Dawson.
His clinical interests include minimally invasive spine surgery techniques and motion-preservation surgery, such as total disc replacement. With minimally invasive surgical techniques, many patients experience less pain, shorter hospital stays, and quicker recoveries.
Regenerative medicine is an emerging area of science that holds great promise for treating and even curing a variety of injuries and diseases.
Regenerative medicine uses natural tissue engineering cellular therapies, and medical devices to repair tissue or organs damaged as a result of disease, trauma, or congenital issues.
In using some of these approaches or a combination of them, regenerative medicine can amplify our natural healing processes and improve health and function.
The goal of Regenerative Medicine in orthopedics is to provide the latest in affordable, minimally invasive therapies that will replace, repair, or promote tissue regeneration for acute and chronic orthopedic conditions, including those of the spine.
Discs are soft, rubber pads located between the vertebrae in the spine that act as shock absorbers and allow the spine to flex and bend. Spinal discs have a ring of cartilage along the outside that contains a gel-like substance. The outer cartilage of the disc can weaken over time or with a sudden injury, causing the inner disc material to push through that outer wall. This condition is known as a herniated disc but is also commonly referred to as a slipped or ruptured disc.
There are several reasons why a disc might herniate. One common factor that contributes to a herniated disc is the weakening of the discs over time. A herniated disc can also occur from an injury. A sudden increase in disc pressure caused by a car accident, heavy lifting, a slip, and fall can cause the outer disc to rupture or tear, and the inner gel can leak out.
Depending on the location of the herniated disc, it may produce different symptoms. In addition to pain, a herniated disc in the back may cause a condition called sciatica, which produces a shooting pain that extends from the buttocks all the way down the leg due to pressure on one of the spinal nerves. A herniated disc in the back may also cause weakness, tingling, and/or numbness in one or both of the legs or feet.
A herniated disc in the neck produces similar symptoms, but will typically affect the arms rather than the legs and feet. Weakness, tingling, and/or numbness in one arm are common symptoms of a herniated disc in the neck. A herniated disc can also cause burning pain in the shoulders, neck, or arms.
In some cases, symptoms of a herniated disc can be managed without the need for surgery. However, if nonsurgical treatments, such as medication, injections, and physical therapy are not effective, surgery may be considered. For many patients, the nerve pain from a herniated disc is improved immediately following surgery.
Degenerative disc disease is a weakening of one or more vertebral discs, which normally act as a cushion between the vertebrae. This condition can develop as a natural part of the aging process, but it may also result from injury to the back. Degenerative disc disease typically begins when small tears appear in the disc wall called the annulus. These tears can cause pain. When the tears heal, they create scar tissue that is not as strong as the original disc wall.
With cervical degenerative disc disease, symptoms may include numbness, tingling, and weakness to the shoulders, arms, forearm, and/or hand. For lumbar degenerative disc disease, symptoms may include moderate, continuous low back pain with occasional pain flare-ups, localized tenderness, weakness, or instability. Pain may spread to the buttocks, groin, upper thighs, legs, and/or feet.
Many people find that lying down relieves pressure on the spine.
Treatment for degenerative disc disease involves physical therapy, medication management, and interventional pain management/injections. If nonsurgical options fail, then surgical treatments include discectomy, laminectomy, fusion, or artificial disc replacement.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the space inside the spine that can put pressure on the nerves within the spinal cord. It is a very common condition affecting the neck and lower back.
Some people are born with a small spinal canal, but for others, something happens to cause the narrowing. It can be linked to the bone spurs of osteoarthritis, or a gradual thickening of ligaments in the spine, a herniated disc, some other injury, or a tumor.
Symptoms depend on what nerves are affected. You may have neck or back pain. You may have sensations like numbness, weakness, and tingling in the hand, arm, leg, or foot. You may have trouble with balance. Some people develop bowel or bladder problems. Usually, symptoms start gradually and get worse over time.
Treatment depends on your needs. If your stenosis is mild, things like medications, interventional pain injections, and physical therapy may give you relief. For cases that do not respond to conservative treatment, surgical laminectomy and decompression may be recommended. These procedures can be done on an outpatient basis or with minimal hospitalization.
Fortunately, the majority of spine-related problems may be managed without surgery. To prevent problems from developing in the neck or back, certain precautions need to be taken.
- Minimize repetitive or high-energy trauma to the neck or back. Choose your recreational and work activities wisely. If your work environment puts you at risk, an ergonomic evaluation or job site analysis may be needed.
- Maintain a healthy diet and body weight.
- Do exercises such as walking, swimming, and cycling, for cardiovascular fitness and to minimize trauma to the spine.
- Include core body (trunk, abdomen, back) strengthening and stretching exercises into your daily or weekly routine. This may require a short series of sessions with a physical therapist to establish a reliable and effective home exercise program.
- Avoid tobacco products. Nicotine has effects on your cardiovascular system that impairs circulation and contributes to back and neck pain.