More accurate back surgery using machine vision technology

While most back pain is caused by muscle strains, injuries, or spinal deformities, it can also be caused by systemic disease or rheumatism.

NEW YORK – Back pain is the leading cause of disability among American adults under the age of 65. An estimated 500,000 lumbar spine surgeries are performed each year. Now, a new technology similar to a self-driving car navigation system is improving accuracy and patient safety in the operating room.

For 66-year-old Sam DeMaria, it’s a win.He suffered from chronic back pain for 15 years and had 6 episodes of back pain surgery over the years. The first five times brought temporary relief, but then he would be bedridden again.

“My only consolation is lying on my back, on my back, with pillows under my legs. That’s it. If I go downstairs, I’ll hold out for five minutes and then go right back upstairs,” DeMaria said.

“He had scoliosis and multilevel, basically, many nerves compressed in many places,” explained Mount Sinai neurosurgeon Jeremy Steinberger MD.

Dr. Steinberger and his team performed DeMaria’s sixth Surgery, but this time, they have a new navigation system – using machine vision technology.

“Essentially, you touch the probe to the patient and you see where you are on the patient’s spine,” says Dr. Steinberg said.

Machine vision technology is similar to the technology and complex software used in self-driving cars. In the operating room, special cameras analyze the anatomy and create 3D images. An overhead light takes a “flash” image and within four seconds gives the surgeon thousands of fiducials to record on the patient’s CT scan.

“That’s what connects the patient to the technology, and that’s when you can check to make sure you’re accurate,” says Dr. Steinberg added.

“I had no pain after the surgery. I stood up straight and that’s what I wanted to accomplish,” DeMaria said.

Another benefit of the technology is that the new navigation system reduces radiation by eliminating the need for patients to undergo fluoroscopy medical imaging, which requires continuous X-ray images to be displayed on a monitor.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatment, please let us know by contacting Ann Sterling at or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

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