Body Awareness

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Article written for “We’ve Got Your Back Magazine”

Listening to Your Body

When was the last time you took 20 minutes, or even 5 minutes, to sit/lay down in a quiet setting, free from distractions and actually listen to your body. All of us occasionally feel aches and pains, muscle tension, stiffness, etc. But how often do we step back and pay attention to what our bodies are telling us?

The Bodies Pain Signal

The sensation of pain is a complex signal that can be interpreted by individuals in many different ways. This sensation is our body’s way of telling us that something is “not right”. Many times muscular pain is related to tension and spasm activity in the soft tissues. There are many causes of soft tissue pain…contusions, strains/sprains, overuse, deconditioning, poor posture and stress to name a few. The vast majority of our occasional aches and pains are self-limited and will resolve on their own.

Be Proactive

However, if a soft tissue pain problem is not resolving it may require more of your attention and a commitment to do something about it. From a rehabilitation perspective, it is important to take a proactive role in helping your body recover and get beyond pain complaints that become more frequent and nagging. Many times there is tightness in a certain body part that leads to limited range of motion, which leads to more tightness and ultimately weakness or muscular imbalance. If ignored, this can lead to more chronic symptoms and activity limitation.

Learn to Listen to Your Body

This is where a sense of body awareness can be very helpful for many individuals…a sort of “systems check” for the body. Just like your car needs regular maintenance to run efficiently, your body needs both physical and mental maintenance to perform at its peak. Taking a few minutes once or twice a week to listen to what your body is telling you can go a long way toward helping yourself get beyond some of these nagging complaints and hopefully even prevent them from happening in the first place.
Try to find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down and slowly assess how your body is feeling and the messages it is sending you. Start at the feet, move to the ankles, knees, hips, low back, mid back, neck and head. Allow each body part a few seconds to give you feedback. Once you identify an area that may be irritated or where you may be holding some tension, concentrate on the specific sensations you are experiencing. Try to consciously relax the area that is irritated and see if the message changes at all. These are simple biofeedback techniques that have been shown to be successful.

You Found the Problem… Now What?

The next step is to gradually improve the mechanics of an area of irritation. If there is tension, then a stretching program may be indicated. If there is looseness or weakness, then strengthening is more appropriate. Usually, a balance of range of motion (stretching) and strength/endurance training (light weight resistance exercises, aerobic activity, etc.) will help to break the cycle of irritation associated with many musculoskeletal problems.

Getting Medical Care When You Need It

Obviously, there are complaints and problems that require more aggressive diagnostics and treatment recommendations. If your pain is not responding to time and more conservative measures, or if you are having any progressive neurologic deficits (progressive weakness, bowel/bladder changes, etc.) you should be seen by your physician.
At Sierra Regional Spine Institute, we offer evaluation and treatment of spine and musculoskeletal problems. Our goal is to identify any specific problems that may be contributing to your pain and develop a comprehensive treatment program to help you improve and get back to a higher level of function. Your own personal sense of body awareness can not only help identify sources for problems, but can assist you on the road to recovery and even prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

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Artificial Disc Replacement

At Sierra Regional Spine Institute, we believe that the future is restoration of anatomy and function through motion. The artificial disc replacement is the answer to that problem. Sierra Regional Spine Institute continues to be a leader in Nevada when disc replacement surgery is needed.
It is a surgical procedure in which degenerated intervertebral discs in the spinal column are replaced with artificial disc implants in the lumbar or cervical spine.

The procedure is used to treat chronic, severe low back pain and cervical pain resulting from degenerative disc disease.

Artificial disc replacement has been developed as an alternative to spinal fusion, with the goal of pain reduction or elimination, while still allowing motion throughout the spine. Another possible benefit is the prevention of premature breakdown in adjacent levels of the spine, a potential risk in fusion surgeries.

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Revision Spine Surgery

Revision spine surgery is a surgery procedure performed in certain patients to correct the problems of earlier spine surgery. Revision surgery is only when working with patients who experience chronic pain or any worsening symptoms even after the initial surgery.
Other factors that can indicate the need for revision spine surgery include:

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At Sierra Regional Spine Institute we use Decompression in a few ways to treat and make the process of recovery smoother for people with fractures: Microdiscectomy, Microendoscopic Laminectomy, Minimally Invasive Cervical Foraminotomy (MICF), Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty.


Microdiscectomy, also called microlumbar discectomy (MLD), is a very common MIS decompression procedure performed in patients with a symptomatic lumbar herniated disc. The operation consists of removing the portion of the intervertebral disc that is herniated and compressing a spinal nerve root.

Minimally Invasive Cervical Foraminotomy

This is a MIS cervical foraminotomy decompression procedure that enlarges the space in which a spinal nerve root exits the cervical spinal canal (intervertebral foramen). This narrowing can be caused by a herniated disc, bone spurs, thickened ligaments or joints, which may result in pinched nerves.


Vertebroplasty for the treatment of vertebral compression fractures (VCFs) was introduced in the United States in the early 1990s. The procedure is usually done on an outpatient basis, although some patients stay in the hospital overnight. The procedure may be performed with a local anesthetic and intravenous sedation or general anesthesia.

Using x-ray guidance, a small needle containing specially formulated acrylic bone cement is injected into the collapsed vertebra. The cement hardens within minutes, strengthening and stabilizing the fractured vertebra. Most experts believe that pain relief is achieved through mechanical support and stability provided by the bone cement.
Kyphoplasty involves an added procedure performed before the cement is injected into the vertebra. First, two small incisions are made and a probe is placed into the vertebral space where the fracture is located.

The bone is drilled and one balloon (called a bone tamp) is inserted on each side. The two balloons are then inflated with contrast medium (which are visualized using image guidance x-rays) until they expand to the desired height and removed. The spaces created by the balloons are then filled with the cement. Kyphoplasty has the added benefit of restoring height to the spine.

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Cervical Fusion

Cervical Fusion is an operation that creates a solid union between two or more vertebrae in the upper spine (neck) area. This procedure may assist in strengthening and stabilizing the spine and may thereby help to alleviate severe and chronic back pain.
The best clinical results are generally achieved in single-level fusion, although fusion at two levels may be performed in properly selected patients.

Bone grafts may be taken from the hip or from another bone in the same patient (autograft) or from a bone bank (allograft). Bone graft extenders and bone morphogenetic proteins (hormones that cause bone to grow inside the body) can also be used to reduce or eliminate the need for bone grafts.

Fusion sometimes involves the use of supplemental hardware (instrumentation) such as plates, screws, and cages. This fusing of the bone graft with the bones of the spine will provide a permanent union between those bones. Once that occurs, the hardware is no longer needed, but most patients prefer to leave the hardware in place rather than go through another surgery to remove it.

Fusion can sometimes be performed via smaller incisions through MIS techniques. The use of advanced fluoroscopy and endoscopy has improved the accuracy of incisions and hardware placement, minimizing tissue trauma while enabling an MIS approach.

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Lumbar Fusion

This is a MIS technique that is performed in patients with refractory mechanical low back and radicular pain associated with spondylolisthesis, degenerative disc disease, and recurrent disc herniation. The procedure is performed from the back (posterior) with the patient on his or her stomach.

Using x-ray guidance, two 2.5-cm incisions are made on either side of the lower back. The muscles are gradually dilated and tubular retractors inserted to allow access to the affected area of the lumbar spine.

The lamina is removed to allow visualization of the nerve roots. The disc material is removed from the spine and replaced with a bone graft and structural support from a cage made of bone, titanium, carbon-fiber, or a polymer, followed by rod and screw placement.

The tubular retractors are removed, allowing the dilated muscles to come back together, and the incisions are closed. This procedure typically takes about 3 to 3 1/2 hours to perform.

Outcome & Benefits

Pioneers of both surgical and non-surgical techniques


Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

MIS was first performed in the 80s but has recently seen rapid advances. Technological advances have enabled surgeons to expand patient selection and treat an array of spinal disorders, such as degenerative disc disease, herniated disc, fractures, tumors, infections, instability, and deformity.
This can result in quicker recovery, decreased operative blood loss, and speedier patient return to normal function. In some MIS approaches, also called, “keyhole surgeries,” surgeons use a tiny endoscope with a camera on the end, which is inserted through a small incision in the skin. The camera provides surgeons with an inside view, enabling surgical access to the affected area of the spine.

Benefits of Minimally Invasive Surgery

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