NuVasive is solving chronic pain

Kelly Dawson
April 25, 2018
8 min read
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There are more than 250 companies in our combined portfolios, and they are all making amazing advancements. From names you know, like Tesla, to those little gems you haven’t heard of yet, like Xylem, we want you to know all about what your holdings are up to. These ‘deep dives’ will help you understand what you’re invested into and how your dollars are making the world a better place.

NuVasive is part of our Healthy Living portfolio.

  • More than 30 million Americans come to doctors with low-back pain
  • NuVasive  is just 20 years old and has distinguished itself as a leader for the future of solving chronic back, leg, or neck pain
  • As of 2017 it has billion dollars in net revenues, more than 25 locations, and 2,300 employees

When anyone gets to be a certain age, it’s almost impossible to avoid physical pains. We all remember the days when we could walk long distances in unsupportive shoes with no incidents or take part in strenuous activities without so much as breaking a sweat. That’s why what we’re about to say isn’t easy to accept. And for those of us who were particularly athletic as kids, the high school quarterbacks or college track stars now on the stands, it’ll be harder. But perhaps all of us should admit this common fact: Sometimes our bodies betray our minds.

We all may think we’re still young. But any time we decide to go on a long hike or play a sport with our friends, we realize — both too soon and a little too late — that we’re not what we use to be. We complain that our backs or sore from jumping or a cramp was caused by jogging. We grimace as we shuffle and we create a new routine of sedentary relief. And the truth is, really, that some aches and pains don’t even come from these types of lunge-and-stretch activities. Sometimes we hurt ourselves just by reaching a little too hard for the remote.

The beauty in realizing this difficult truth is that we may be older but not alone in our bodily blunders. The American Chiropractic Association estimates that more than 30 million Americans come to doctors with low-back pain, and half of the U.S. workforce showcases these symptoms each year. In fact, the association supposes that 80 percent of us will experience this at some point in our lives.

But before you’re so comforted by this shared experience that you brush it off as a part of adulthood, think again. Back pains can lead to more serious chronic conditions, where a move gone wrong can’t be fixed with ice, rest, and perhaps even therapy. It’s rare, of course, but sometimes a slip-up can be serious.

When back pains progress from the living room to the surgical table, that’s where NuVasive can step in to restore our bodies to good health. Although this San Diego company is just 20 years old, it has distinguished itself as a leader for the future of solving chronic back, leg, or neck pain. In fact, its catalog of modern products and minimally-invasive procedures have made it more than a billion dollars in net revenues — a benchmark it met last year — which has allowed it to grow to more than 25 locations with 2,300 employees.

In other words, as our pains arise with age, NuVasive is figuring out ways to make them temporary.

Put your back into it

In order to understand what NuVasive is all about, let’s start at the surgical table. Now, we’re not going to get too detailed here: We’re not surgeons, and it’s good to be on the safe side if you’re reading this while eating lunch. Traditional back surgeries can be tricky. A large area of at least four to six inches has to be opened up from the front or back of the body to locate where the spinal injury has occurred. From there, hours can be spent operating at this site. A loss of blood or infections can arise during that process, and patients can often spend days recovering in the hospital after the surgery has finished.

NuVasive is working to shift all that.

Fifteen years ago, the company debuted its lateral spinal procedure known as XLIF (Extreme Lateral Interbody Fusion) and it’s still its most recognized procedure — 400 clinical studies have been done on it. This operation starts with a small incision on a patient’s side that allows for dilators to pinpoint the spine’s problem area and assisting monitors to avoid nerves (screens allow surgeons to see this). Once the area is located, a retractor holds the incision open as the damaged spinal disc is removed and replaced with an implant. The implant is secured with screws and supports the bone as it heals over time. In all, this process has a shorter operation and recovery time, as well as reduced pain and blood loss.

The same can be said about the other customizable spinal, limb, and bone grafting procedures in NuVasive’s list of expertise. When patients arrive with a range of pain problems — which can be caused by degenerative disc disease, cervical disc degeneration, early onset scoliosis, limb length discrepancies, and more — they are first examined by the company’s surgical team. Sometimes these issues can be solved with non-surgical treatments like physical therapy and medications, or even options of rest and ice packs. But in those cases when surgeries are required, NuVasive works to make them as hands-off as possible.

Most of NuVasive’s operations concern the spine, and all operations of this kind begin with a small incision that’s about two inches wide. From there, specialized tools and screens locate, treat, and secure discs along the neck and back. Sometimes these procedures require a variety of tools to stabilize the area, reduce pain, and allow the body to heal. And sometimes bones are removed and replaced with implants or grafts. It all depends on the individual body’s needs, and what the doctor recommends for the operation.

This is what NuVasive refers to as “maximum access surgery,” because these procedures have all the benefits of traditional operations with all the positives of being minimally invasive. And to make sure that surgeons know exactly what they are doing, NuVasive has cadaver labs in San Diego and Amsterdam where surgeons can learn and practice before entering the company’s global field.

Be right back

Clearly, there’s much more to these operations than we can detail here: the tools and trainings would each require their own chapters. But what we hope to get across is NuVasive’s ingenuity. Its procedures are offering pain relief that is unlike any traditional operation, where patients can return to their normal lives at a faster rate.

The NuVasive Spine Foundation is also offering these procedures globally to patients who otherwise wouldn’t have the care. Since it was formed in 2009, the foundation has traveled to more than 30 countries to serve about 850 patients. Furthermore, it has trained 500 local surgeons, too.

All of our futures include a time when our bodies no longer work as they used to. And for some of us, that typical jolt up our backs or cramp on our side can lead to debilitating change. NuVasive is making it so that pain doesn’t have to be permanent, and its modern view of a common surgery is describing a future where more people can experience faster recoveries and fewer medical bills.

Who knows? With NuVasive’s procedures, we could redefine what it means to feel young again.

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