Spine Surgery News

Spine Anatomy: The Basics

Are you suffering from a condition causing back or spine pain? If so, let’s take a minute to discuss spine anatomy. In order to fully understand the cause of your back pain and the right approach for treatment, it’s important to understand the anatomy of your spine. Let’s start with the basics. Your spine is the structure that allows you to stand up, move, bend, and twist. It also protects your spinal cord which connects your brain to your nervous system.

Spine Anatomy: Five Regions of the Spine

Your spine has 33 bones or vertebrae that are stacked on top of one another and divided into five regions. Vertebrae come in all sizes and provide support to your body. The five regions of the spine include:


spine anatomy

  • Cervical Spine. The cervical spine is another name for your neck and features seven vertebrae that run from the stem of your brain down your neck. It is considered the most mobile section of the spine.


  • Thoracic Spine. On the thoracic spine, you’ll find 12 vertebrae on your upper and middle back. The range of motion in the thoracic spine is limited.


  • Lumbar Spine. The lumbar spine has five vertebrae and begins below your shoulder and goes down to your abdomen. Since these vertebrae are larger, they are able to handle the stress of carrying heavy objects and lifting.


  • Sacral Spine. On the sacral spine, there are five fused vertebrae that form the sacrum. This region starts in your lower back, extends to your tailbone and connects your spine to your hip bones.


  • Coccygeal Spine. The coccygeal spine contains four fused vertebrae referred to as the coccyx. It is located at the bottom of your spine and provides attachment for the ligaments and muscles of the pelvic floor.

Why an “S” Curve?

When you look at a normal spine from the side, you’ll notice a curve that is in the shape of an S. The S curve allows a healthy spine to withstand all types of stress. While the cervical spine curves inward, the thoracic spine curves outward, and the lumbar spine curves inward. Each region of the spine depends on the strength of the others to function at its optimal level.

Since we rely on our spine to move, daily life can be very difficult when it causes pain. At Pacific Spine, we see patients that are living with back pain for a number of different reasons. In most cases, back pain is caused by muscular problems, degenerated discs, tumors, infections, sciatica, scoliosis, or osteoarthritis.

Contact Pacific Spine Specialists 

If you would like further information on spine anatomy or are living with back pain and would like to find relief, contact Pacific Spine today at 503-885-9391 to schedule an appointment.

All About Spine Bone Spurs

If you are experiencing a dull pain in your neck or back, spine bone spurs may be to blame. Known medically as osteophytes, the term “bone spur” is actually rather misleading since bone spurs are in fact smooth in nature. A spine bone spur is an enlargement of the normal bony structure in the spine and quite common in adults over the age of 60, thanks to spinal degeneration.

Symptoms of Spine Bone Spurs

Since spine bone spurs are usually a result of aging, at times a person may have no symptoms at all. In other cases, one or more of the symptoms below may be present:

  • Back pain or neck pain, specifically when walking or standing
  • Pain that radiates into the shoulders
  • Pain that radiates into the buttocks and thighs
  • Pain that worsens with activity and often improves with rest
  • Symptoms improve while bending forward and flexing at the waist, such as while pushing a walker

It is important to note that the symptoms above could be an indication of many different medical, spine, or back conditions. Therefore, it is recommended to schedule an appointment with a knowledgeable spine expert for a proper diagnosis.

Risk Factors for Bone Spurs

In most instances, since a spine bone spur is a natural part of aging, there is little that can be done to prevent them from occurring. However, the following risk factors may increase an individual’s chance for developing a bone spur:

  • Genetics
  • Nutrition and lifestyle
  • Injury, such as a sports or automobile accident

Maintaining good posture and staying active may help to reduce your chances for developing a spine bone spur later in life.

Treatment Options for Spine Bone Spurs

Bone Spurs can typically be treated without the need for surgical intervention. Non-surgical treatments for bone spurs include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Muscle relaxers
  • Cortisone epidural steroid injections
  • Rest
  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise
  • Chiropractic adjustments

If surgery is warranted, a procedure such as a laminectomy may be performed to relieve the pain and neurological symptoms caused by the spur. Although surgery is rarely the first line of treatment, in many cases patients who undergo surgery for spine bone spurs experience wonderful results and relief for many years following.

Learn More About Bone Spur Treatment at Pacific Spine Specialists

At Pacific Spine Specialists, our spine expert, Dr. Timothy Keenen, is a master at diagnosing and treating bone spurs. Therefore, if you are experiencing spine pain and fear a bone spur is to blame, we invite you to schedule an appointment with our office today. Call to take advantage of our free MRI review. Your spine will thank you.

Obesity and Back Pain

Obesity and Back PainIf you are overweight and experiencing back pain, there may be a simple reason: your weight. When it comes to obesity and back pain, the two go hand in hand. Studies have shown that there is a positive correlation between those who have been classified as obese and an increase in back and joint pain. Therefore, if you are suffering from back pain, it may be time to shed unwanted pounds prior to undergoing treatment. Not only can extra weight exacerbate back pain, you may not be a candidate for surgery unless you lose some weight prior.

Why Do I Need To Lose Weight Prior to Surgery?

When it comes to major surgery, it is important to go in to the procedure as healthy as possible. Below are reasons why a surgeon may suggest weight loss prior to back surgery:

  • Added weight may be a hindrance to recovery
  • Anesthesia use may be more dangerous
  • Extra weight can cause breathing issues or heart problems, both of which can make surgery riskier

Even if you are undergoing a minimally invasive procedure, ultimately, the healthier you are, the faster and easier you recover. Additionally, undergoing weight loss may result in the disappearance of pain all on its own without intervention.


How are Obesity and Back Pain Related?

Obesity and back pain are related for many reasons. It is no secret that extra weight can put a strain on your back and joints, specifically your intervertebral discs. For patients who have curvature of the spine, or scoliosis, extra pounds could make the curvature even more pronounced– and painful.  Furthermore, the risk of injuring your back increases due to the strain placed on it by the added weight.

Tips for Losing Unwanted Weight Prior to Back Pain Treatment

For patients who are obese, it may be difficult to exercise for many reasons, such as fatigue and shortness of breath, not to mention the lingering back pain. However, exercise is an important part of spine and back health, as well as crucial for losing weight. The very best way to protect your back, joints and muscles is by exercising regularly. Therefore, it you are overweight and ready to start an exercise regimen prior to back surgery, here are a few low impact exercises to try that are easy on the back but effective for weight loss:

  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Dancing

Prior to beginning an exercise program, we suggest you get approval from your spine surgeon or doctor. Your provider can help you devise a plan to protect your back and ease into exercise.

Learn More

If you have been living with  back pain, it may be time to seek help. Contact Pacific Spine Specialists today for a free review of your MRI results.  We can determine if your condition may require surgery or not.  If surgery isn’t the best option for you, we can help by referring you to a non-surgical provider.   

Fall Activities That Can Increase Back Pain

Now that the fall season is in full swing, you are likely spending your days participating in a wide variety of fall activities. Although you may not be thinking about your back while engaging in them, you may notice an increase in back pain after the fact. Let’s take a closer look at some fall activities that can increase back pain.

4 Fall Activities That Can Increase Back Pain:

  1. Hiking

One of the best ways to enjoy the brisk fall weather and colorful leaves is to go for a hike. If you are going for a hike this fall, you should warm-up and stretch in advance. Your backpack should also be light and feature two thick shoulder straps that you wear at all times. In the event you struggle with posture, you may want to bring hiking poles with you as they can help you maintain good posture throughout the entire hike.

  1. Pumpkin and Apple PickingFall Activities That Can Increase Back Pain

Two of the most festive fall activities include pumpkin and apple picking. There is no better way to spend a fall day than out in the orchard or in the pumpkin patch with family and friends. Prior to participating in one or both of these activities, you should be mindful of your back. When lifting a pumpkin, bend your knees, keep your back straight, and refrain from twisting your body while the pumpkin is in your hand. Lastly, make it a priority stretch before you haul a pumpkin or pick apples as stretching will increase your flexibility and decrease your risk of back injury.

  1. Yard Work

On the top of the list of fall activities that can increase back pain is yard work, such as raking leaves. Raking leaves is a time-consuming, strenuous task that requires you to bend over and place a great deal of stress on your back. In order to get leaves off the ground while still keeping your back in good shape, you should perform gentle stretches and take regular breaks. If you experience any sharp pain in your back while raking, put an end to this task for the day. In addition, be sure to only lift small bags of leaves that you can easily manage.

  1. Household Chores

Last on the list of fall activities that can increase back pain is housework. In addition to bringing out your coats, sweaters, and blankets, you will likely spend the fall season preparing for winter and holiday house guests by performing various house chores. Whether you’re cleaning the gutters, bringing your patio or deck furniture indoors, or sealing cracks around your doors and windows, you should always stretch before, try to maintain proper posture, and avoid completing too many chores in one day.

Contact Pacific Spine Specialists

If you’d like more information on how to reduce fall back pain or if you experience a back injury this season, you should contact Pacific Spine Specialists. Dr. Timothy Keenen is an expert at diagnosing and treating conditions of the back and spine. Call us at 503-885-9391 today.

Spinal Fusion Complications

The purpose of spinal fusion surgery is to permanently join together two or more bones in the spine to prevent movement between them. Just like all surgeries, spinal fusions have the potential for complications. Fortunately, these complications are not common and should not discourage you from undergoing a spinal fusion if a surgeon believes it can improve your spine-related condition. However, it is always important to understand the risks prior to any procedure. Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common spinal fusion complications.

Most Common Spinal Fusion Complications

Anesthesia Complications

A spine surgeon will administer general anesthesia prior to performing a spinal fusion in order to keep a patient free of pain during the procedure. In rare cases, anesthesia complications can occur and lead to brain damage, stroke, a heart attack, and even death.

Pain From the Bone Graft Site in the Pelvis

Pain at the bone graft site can be significant. This type of bone graft is rarely used.  Dr. Keenen has not had an need to take a bone graft from the pelvis for over 15 years.  Different types of allograft (bone bank bone) are commonly used.


Although spine surgeons take a variety of precautions to reduce the risk of infection, some patients may still develop an infection. Some of the most common symptoms of infections include pain, wounds, fevers, foul smells in the wound, and clear liquid that oozes from the incision.


Another possible spinal fusion complication is known as pseudarthrosis. Pseudoarthrosis occurs when the fusion does not heal, meaning that two or more of the spinal bones do not heal together as intended and fail to stabilize the spine. When this happens, a patient may experience pain or movement known as micromotion.

Persistent Pain

Even though the goal of  spinal fusion surgery is almost always to reduce or alleviate pain, sometimes the spinal fusion is unsuccessful and pain develops, persists, or increases.

Deep Vein Thrombosis

Deep vein thrombosis or DVT arises when blood clots develop in one of the large veins of one or both legs. This condition may occur after a spinal fusion because the body’s clotting mechanism is working too hard to stop bleeding at the surgical site.

Contact Pacific Spine Specialists Today

If you believe are suffering from a painful, spine-related condition, a spinal fusion may be right for you. Dr. Keenen of Pacific Spine Specialists performs minimally invasive spine surgeries which use smaller incisions and leave the strong muscle fiber intact with the spine in order to reduce the risk of spinal fusion complications and ensure a safer procedure with less recovery time.

Call our office today at 503-885-9391 to schedule an appointment so that Dr. Keenen can evaluate your condition and determine whether spinal fusion surgery or another procedure is right for you.

The Ins and Outs of Spinal Fusion Surgery

Have you been told by your spine expert that spinal fusion surgery is right for you? If you have been living with spine pain, spinal fusion surgery may be a great option for reducing or possibly eliminating your spine pain once and for all. In fact, it can be performed on its own or in combination with other spine surgeries. However, before you make the decision to undergo spinal fusion surgery, it is important to know exactly what the procedure entails.

What is Spinal Fusion Surgery?

Spinal fusion surgery is a procedure used to join two or more vertebrae together. In many cases, it is used as a method to correct the movement between two vertebrae that are rubbing against each other and resulting in pain. During spinal fusion surgery, the two trouble vertebrae are fused together, eliminating any movement between them. In many cases, spinal fusion surgery can lead to a long-term pain resolution for the right candidate.

What Conditions Does Spinal Fusion Surgery Treat?

A spinal fusion can be used to treat a number of spine conditions, such as the conditions below. If you are suffering from one of these conditions and believe a spinal fusion may be right for you, speak with a spine expert today.

  • Unstable or weak spine
  • Spinal fractures
  • Deformities
  • Lumbar Spondylolisthesis
  • Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Scoliosis

What Does a Spinal Fusion Involve?

When it comes to a spinal fusion, there are several approaches your spine surgeon may take to provide relief. However, most spinal fusion procedures involve a bone graft being applied to the affected area of the spine to form a bridge between the vertebrae and encourage new bone growth. Metal implants may be used to hold the vertebrae together until the new bones have formed. The procedure usually lasts several hours and when performed correctly, should eliminate pain immediately.


What are the Risks involved with Spinal Fusion Surgery?

As with any surgery, there are always risks involved. Before undergoing surgery, it is always important to understand the risks. The risks for spinal fusion surgery include:

  • Damage to the spinal nerve resulting in weakness, loss of sensation, pain, or problem with the bowels and bladder. However, we use neuromonitoring during all fusion surgeries to minimize this risk.
  • Infection of the vertebral bones or wound
  • Increased wear and tear on nearby vertebra

Learn More

If you would like to learn more about Spinal Fusion Surgery, we invite you to explore Pacific Spine Specialists. Dr. Timothy Keenen specializes in minimally invasive procedures, such as spinal fusions, and would welcome the opportunity to learn more about your condition. Take advantage of our free MRI review and contact us today to schedule your appointment with us.

5 Tips on How to Find a Great Spine Surgeon

Finding a great spine surgeon can make a significant difference in the outcome of your spinal surgery. Therefore, you should evaluate a variety of spine surgeons in your area rather than choosing the one that is closest to your home or is available to perform a surgery on a day that’s convenient for you. These tips on how to find a great spine surgeon will help you ensure you’ve chosen the right individual to treat your spine related condition.

How to Find a Great Spine Surgeon:

1. Read Reviews

Thanks to the internet, you can easily read patient reviews on different spine surgeons from the comfort of your own home. Keep in mind that the reviews a spine surgeon places on their website are likely to be all positive as their website is designed for marketing purposes. If you’d like to read honest reviews from real patients, check out third party review sites such as Healthgrades, Vitals, or RateMDs.

2. Ask Your Social Network

It’s a good idea to reach out to your friends and family to find out whether they have any recommendations for a great spine surgeon. Keep in mind that you should look for overall trends when evaluating a spine surgeon so one bad review from a friend or family member shouldn’t convince you to completely dismiss a certain surgeon. Multiple bad reviews, however, should encourage you to look for someone else.

3. Check Certifications

Be sure to choose a spine surgeon who is board-certified and fellowship-trained in spinal surgery. You should also make sure that they devote the majority of their time to spinal conditions and are up-to-date with the latest developments in the field.

4. Search for a Surgeon Who Specializes in Minimally Invasive Surgeries

Many spine surgeons specialize in minimally invasive surgeries. These surgeries are highly effective and typically safer than traditional, open spine surgeries. In addition, they offer a shorter recovery period. If possible, choose a spine surgeon who specializes in minimally invasive treatments.  

5. Meet with Several Surgeons

You should schedule appointments with several surgeons so that you can determine which one you believe is most qualified to perform your surgery. You will likely have a gut feeling about whether or not a surgeon is a good fit so trust your intuition.

Contact Pacific Spine Specialists Today

Dr. Timothy Keenen of Pacific Spine Specialists is a board certified and fellowship-trained spine surgeon who is highly experienced with minimally invasive spine surgeries as well as motion preservation surgeries, cervical fusion, lumbar fusion, and micro-discectomy. Call us today at 503-885-9391 to schedule a consultation for your spinal surgery.

When to Seek Medical Treatment for Whiplash

Whiplash is a neck sprain that occurs when the neck experiences hyperextension and hyperflexion, or for those of us who don’t speak in medical terms, when the head forcefully moves backward and then forward. In most cases, whiplash is caused during car accidents, such as a rear-end collision when force from the accident propels the neck forward. Each year, it is estimated that approximately 3 million people across America are affected by whiplash.

Causes of Whiplash

Although car accidents are the leading cause of whiplash in most people, whiplash can also be caused by several other situations, such as one of the below:

  • Falling
  • Sports
  • Being shaken
  • A punch or blow to the head

whiplashWhat Happens During Whiplash

As an important part of the spine, the neck, also referred to as the cervical spine, is made up of spinal bones called vertebrae, intervertebral discs, muscles, ligaments and nerves. When whiplash occurs, the sudden impact forces the neck’s lower vertebrae one way and the upper vertebrae another way, creating an S-shaped curve. This unnatural position damages the soft tissues of the neck, such as the ligaments, muscles, and tendons.

Symptoms of Whiplash

For most whiplash sufferers, the number one symptom is neck pain. However, there are other symptoms that may be present, such as the following:

  • Muscle tenderness or stiffness
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion and memory issues
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Ear ringing

When to Contact a Doctor for Whiplash

For most whiplash sufferers, symptoms tend to last for one to two months. In extreme cases, whiplash consequences can last up to two years. Whiplash can even be traced to other injuries, like joint, disc and ligament damage. Therefore, if you have been in an accident or suffered an injury and fear you may have whiplash, it is best to consult a spine expert. Even if your symptoms are mild, it is recommended to seek medical attention as symptoms may develop over time. Additionally, consult a doctor immediately if you experience any numbness, tingling or weakness around your neck or upper back, or if the pain spreads down to your arms or shoulders.


Learn More

If you are experiencing whiplash and are looking for relief from your symptoms, contact Pacific Spine Specialists today. Dr. Timothy Keenen is an expert, board certified spine surgeon who will diagnose and make treatment recommendations or a refer you to another specialist for treatment using conservative, effective measures. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment.

Is Spine Surgery Right For Me?

If you are suffering from an aching back, know that you are not alone as chronic back pain is very common in the United States. While spine surgery is an option for some patients with back pain, it is not right for everyone. Keep reading to learn more about spine surgery so that you can get an idea of whether or not it makes sense for your particular situation.

The Majority of Back Pain Does Not Require Surgery

Fortunately, most patients with back pain can find relief from their back pain without surgery. Conservative treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, ice, heat, spinal injections, and physical therapy may all help. Typically, doctors only recommend spine surgery if these conservative treatments have not been effective.

When Spine Surgery is Necessary

In order to determine whether you could benefit from spine surgery, you should schedule an appointment with the spine expert at Pacific Spine Specialists, Dr. Timothy Keenen. Dr. Keenen can diagnose the cause of your pain and provide you with treatment recommendations. If conservative treatments have not been successful in the past, surgery may be a viable option. Spine surgery may become necessary to treat pain that stems from the following sources:

  • A herniated disc
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spinal fracture or instability
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Facet disease
  • Sciatica
  • A tumor or infection

Types of Spine Surgery

There are a variety of different spine surgeries available. Your doctor will suggest the surgery that is ideal for treating your particular pain. Here at Pacific Spine Specialists, Dr. Keenen likes to recommend minimally invasive surgery so that he can use a smaller incision and leave the strong muscle fiber intact with the spine. Although he performs other types of more invasive spine surgeries on the cervical, lumbar, and thoracic spines, he advocates minimally invasive surgery whenever possible.

Benefits of Spine Surgery

The most obvious benefit of spine surgery is relief from chronic pain. However, spine surgery offers a variety of other benefits. It can make it easier for you to move around, improve your mood and physical health, and give you the opportunity to go back to work and live a productive, more fulfilling life.

Schedule an Appointment with Pacific Spine Specialists

If you’re tired of back pain and would like to find out if spine surgery is a good choice for you, we encourage you schedule an appointment at Pacific Spine Specialists. We can be reached at 503-885-9391 and look forward to helping you find relief from your back pain.

Opioid Use After Spine Surgery

Pain after a spine surgery is normal and expected. Often times, spine surgeons suggest the use of opioids to treat post spine surgery pain. If you are afraid to take opioids because you don’t want to become addicted or for other reasons, understand that managing pain is essential for a successful spine surgery recovery as untreated pain can lead to delayed recovery times and chronic pain. Let’s take a closer look at opioid use after spine surgery.

What are Opioids?

Opioids are powerful pain medications that alter the way pain is perceived. They attach onto molecules known as opioid receptors and send messages to the brain that are inaccurate measures of the severity of the pain that the body is actually experiencing. Their purpose is to diminish the perception of pain and help patients experience less pain. Some examples of the most common opioids include:

  • Oxycodone
  • Oxycodone with acetaminophen
  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl.

Side Effects of Opioids

The powerful effect of opioids make them a good option for patients who have just undergone spine surgery and need to manage their pain. However, although opioids are effective, they do come with significant side effects. Nausea, drowsiness, constipation, vomiting, urinary retention, and impaired thinking skills are all side effects of opioids.

If your surgeon prescribes opioids and you experience side effects, you should let them know. A different type of pain medication or dose may reduce uncomfortable side effects and make post-surgery life easier for you.

Avoiding Opioid Addiction

Even though opioid use after surgery is a short term method to relieve pain while your body heals, addiction is still a concern. Fortunately, there are many strategies that can help you as well as others avoid opioid addiction if your surgeon decides that opioid use after spine surgery is right for you. Some of these strategies include:

  •         Taking your medication as your surgeon directed
  •         Not taking other drugs that your surgeon told you to stay away from while taking opioids
  •         Refraining from drinking alcohol while taking opioids
  •         Storing opioids safely
  •         Never sharing opioids with others
  •         Disposing of unused opioids

Contact Pacific Spine Specialists Today

If you are considering spine surgery or you have any questions regarding opioid use after spine surgery, do not hesitate to contact Pacific Spine Specialists today at 503-885-9391. In the event that you do need spine surgery, we’ll let you know if opioids are right for you.