Vertebral Spacers and the New Era of Spinal Surgery

A PEEK spacer, also known as an intervertebral body spacer. It is a type of vertebral spacer inserted into the body to treat spinal stenosis and other painful disc conditions by restoring the spine to its correct alignment. FDA-approved, these spinal disc spacers are usually made of lightweight titanium or plastic and nestle between the affected vertebrae. They serve as a substitute to traditional “cages”, spacers or grafts, which are typically made of metal, plastic, or bone, and are often used as a treatment for spinal stenosis.

How is a PEEK spacer used?

When a person suffers from spinal stenosis, they often experience numbness, tingling, and pain. This is the result of a narrowing in the spinal column which causes the vertebrae to touch other nerves, resulting in pain or numbness. This is most often a result of age and disc degeneration, but could also be caused by trauma such as injury, herniated discs, or tumors. 

If stenosis is left untreated, you run the risk of further complications such as pain, numbness, foot drop, and in some extreme cases, incontinence. Some stenosis can be treated with time and physical therapy, but when surgery becomes the best option for a patient, we select the type of surgical intervention that is best for the patient.

A vertebral spacer is placed in between the affected vertebrae and serves to prevent overextending the spine in a backward direction. By limiting the mobility of the spine in this way, it protects both the spine and the patient from further injury.

Why are PEEK spacers a better surgical option?

  • Less invasive. When you undergo a fusion, the surgeon inserts a cage, and fuses together the vertebrae above and below the cage, allowing for greater spinal stability. However, this procedure affects a larger area than a spinal disc spacer, and we always want to perform surgery that minimizes the impact on the body. This process doesn't require extracting bone from other bony sites, therefore, making it less invasive.

  • Less risk. Due to the nature of how a vertebral spacer is inserted (and the lack of additional hardware or bone materials needed ), there are fewer risks of infection, collapse, or additional surgeries. When a surgeon uses a traditional bone graft, a patient either has to harvest the bone from their own body--which is an additional surgical procedure which adds length to their recovery time---or use a donor's bone. In that case, the patient runs the risk of the body rejecting the graft.

  • Longer lasting. Since PEEK spacers are a synthetic material, the rate of decomposition is much slower. The structural integrity remains, whereas, with bone grafts, you run the risk of that bone eventually deteriorating.

  • Better design. The kyphotic or wedge shape of a PEEK spacer allows your surgeon greater ease for insertion. A PEEK spacer is strong and sturdy, and also biomedically compatible with your body, which allows the spacer to last longer. This also means that there is better matching of the spine's natural alignment.

“Many of my colleagues in the area and throughout the country use PEEK spacers, and with good reason: they have an extremely high rate of success. When we use them, we see a reduction in the rate of collapse, as opposed to using traditional bone grafts.” - Dr. Hope

The Alternatives to PEEK Spacers

While PEEK spacers have many advantages, they may not be covered under some insurance plans.

“Rest assured that traditional methods, such a synthetics and bone grafts, are certainly reliable and good alternatives that have been used successfully throughout the years. Additionally, each year we are seeing the creation of new, stronger materials, such as coral and ceramics, that provide great alternatives to natural bone.” - Dr. Hope

Recommendations from the Doctor

Dr. Hope and the Center for Cranial and Spinal Surgery are pleased to endorse PEEK spacers.

“This product has been well tested through both the FDA and studies and is used throughout the country. I have the utmost confidence in this product and would not be using it I thought otherwise.”

Dr. Hope practices neurosurgery in the DC Metro region. To schedule an appointment, please contact our offices at the Center for Cranial and Spinal Surgery in Fairfax, Virginia at 703.560.1146.

Dr. Donald Hope