My doctor is trying to figure out whether I'll get good results from spine fusion surgery. He wants to try an external fixation device on me. He says if I get relief from this, I'll probably do well with surgery. Is he right?

Not necessarily. A recent study suggests that external fixation--a way of fixing the spine from the outside with special screws placed in the spinal column--doesn't predict whether patients will get relief from surgery. Only about half of the patients who had pain relief from the external device went on to benefit from surgery. About a third stayed the same after surgery. A few even got worse.

These results led one doctor to conclude that external fixation should not be used to predict whether patients will feel better after spinal fusion. External fixation is a fairly invasive procedure. It sometimes leads to complications. Talk to your doctor about his experience with external fixation. If you still have questions, get a second opinion.