Health Watch: Unique procedure helps athletes with spinal fractures

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Nick Mucerino's passion has always been hockey.

But after a big hit on the ice, the 16-year-old started feeling severe pain in his lower back.

"The way I can describe it is somebody taking an ice pick down your spine," Mucerino said.

It turns out that he suffered a pars fracture.

"The pars is a part of your spine," says Professor and Chairman of Neurosurgery Allan Levi. "It can be fractured after repetitive stress and strain, particularly after sports."

It's a common injury in young athletes who play football, soccer, hockey or ballet.

"In fact, some of the fractures will actually heal on their own," Levi said.

But when Nick's injury didn't improve after six months of physical therapy, he was offered a unique procedure.

"It's a technique where you basically use a minimally invasive approach to put screws across the fracture site," Levi said.

Levi developed the procedure that uses two small incisions.

"We put a pin through the fracture," Levi said. "Then we get an intraoperative cat scan to make sure the pin is exactly where we want it to be."

Screws are placed across the fractured bone to promote fusion. Six months after his surgery, Mucerino was ready to get back on the ice.

Now enrolled in law school, Mucerino still loves to get in the rink and play. His back pain is gone.

Most patients go home the next day after surgery and undergo about three months of physical therapy.
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