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Michael Van Hal, M.D. Answers Questions On Orthopaedic Spine Surgery

Michael Van Hal, M.D. Answers Questions On: Orthopaedic Spine Surgery

What do you find most gratifying about how orthopaedic treatments have advanced in the last decade or so?

Orthopaedics is very focused on getting people back to an active life, and advancements in minimally invasive spine surgery have really revolutionized the field to get patients back on their feet sooner. Now we can accomplish what used to require a large surgery with relatively minimal incisions, leading to faster recovery time. Another significant change is the advancement of implants. These have definitely decreased the morbidity of surgery and increased patients’ ability to walk out of the hospital with a smile. One of the best moments as a surgeon is when a patient wakes up in the recovery room and says the pain is gone.

One thing patients tend to misunderstand, however, is that we don’t have a cure for back pain. Back pain is part of being human. When the back or neck pain is associated with extremity pain, then we have reliable ways to improve that pain. Back pain in isolation, although it can be disabling, isn’t dangerous.

What are the most common questions that surface from patients when you’re providing treatment?

The most common question would be, “Do I have to have surgery?” My answer is only if surgery is right for you. As an academic medical center, we aren’t under the same economic pressure as those in private practice and can be less aggressive about getting people to the operating room. In fact, the majority of back and neck issues can be treated nonoperatively. What we try to do here is fit the right treatment for the right diagnosis and the right patient. Surgery may be the best option, but not always. If we do choose surgery, I can perform minimally invasive procedures as well as traditional open procedures, adapting the type of surgery to the specific needs of the individual. Ultimately, I want our patients to recover and get back to life, which is a common theme in orthopaedics – back to life.