Grant Shifflett, MD, has a simple way to sum up the importance of positioning patients correctly for spine surgery. “Proper positioning is as important as the surgical procedure itself,” he says. Dr. Shifflett, an orthopedic surgeon at DISC Sports and Spine Center in Marina del Ray, Calif., isn’t being hyperbolic. Spine patients who aren’t properly positioned and monitored carefully during surgery are vulnerable to a host of disastrous complications, from pressure and nerve injuries to vision loss.
The very notion of operating on the spine makes many patients uneasy, which isn’t an unfounded fear. “Bad things can happen even if you do everything right,” says Alex Vaccaro, MD, PhD, MBA, president of Rothman Orthopaedic Institute in Philadelphia. Of course, adverse events are far less likely to occur when your perioperative team does everything it should positioning-wise. “When it comes to proper patient positioning, surgical teams must have a sound mechanical strategy in place to expose the surgical site and to protect vulnerable pressure points and vascular structures,” says Dr. Vaccaro.