Welcome to the University of Virginia Spine Center

Christopher I. Shaffrey, MD Christopher I. Shaffrey, MD
Harrison Distinguished Professor
Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgery
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA

Interview with Dr. Shaffrey

About My Practice

At the University of Virginia (UVA) Spine Center, my practice involves treating a wide range of patients who vary by age, disorder, and spinal level.  Children, adolescents, young and mature adults, and elderly patients are regularly referred to me for my medical expertise in spine care.

In general, my areas of interest include congenital (at birth) and acquired spinal abnormalities, scoliosis, craniocervical (skull/neck) abnormalities, spinal tumors, spinal vascular malformations, and degenerative spinal disorders.  A large part of my practice involves treating adults with spinal deformities, such as scoliosis or kyphosis.  Some deformity cases are complicated and require complex reconstructive spine surgery.  Many of these disorders affect younger patients too, such as scoliosis, kyphosis, and spondylolisthesis.  Disc herniation and degenerative disc disease is common in mature adults and seniors. 

It should be noted that although many spinal disorders respond favorably to nonoperative treatment, sometimes surgery is necessary.  If recommended, a minimally invasive procedure may be an option.  At the UVA Spine Center, minimally invasive spine procedures are routine.

Listening to Patients

Despite a busy clinic schedule, my goal is to treat patients as individuals and get to know them.  Integral to making a diagnosis is listening to the patient’s history, symptoms, taking time to evaluate the success or failure of prior treatment, and to understand how the spine problem developed and changed over time.  With that information, diagnostic studies – as needed -- are performed, such as plain x-rays, MRI, or CT myelography to optimally define the disorder.  Sometimes a plain x-ray is all that is necessary to define a disorder, which is an essential first step to treatment.

Choosing a Spine Surgeon

Many patients with a spinal problem want to know, “what is the difference between a neurosurgeon and an orthopaedic spine surgeon?”  Well, in my case, I’m board certified in both specialties, so the diversity between neurosurgery and orthopaedic spine surgery is limited.  In general however, the training a neurosurgeon receives is more focused on the brain, spinal cord, and disorders that affect these structures, such as brain or spinal cord tumors.  For patients, or their referring physicians, it is more a matter of considering a surgeon’s expertise including his training and individual experience.  Today, it is not uncommon for a spine surgeon to be a neurosurgeon or orthopaedic surgeon.

Research and Teaching

Every day I work with residents and spine fellows at the University of Virginia to conduct research and teach them about the spine specialty and patient interaction.  This marvelous opportunity serves as a constant refresher and keeps me on top of the latest spine techniques. 

This leads me to mention an area of great interest to me and a focus of my research – the evaluation, management, and optimization of treatment outcomes.  At the UVA Spine Center we use our extensive database to measure both nonoperative and surgical outcomes in the management of spinal deformity.  These outcome measures serve to improve spinal deformity patient care now and in the years ahead. 

Another area of research involves critically examining options to treat spinal cord injuries, which includes innovative treatments to reduce damage and improve a patient’s outcome after a spinal cord injury.

Clinical Trials Improve Future Spine Care

The UVA Spine Center leads many clinical trials.  In particular, we are looking at different drug trials to manage patients with spinal cord injury, how surgical timing impacts results, artificial disc replacement, as well as joint and ligament replacement.  Personally, I’m involved in designing an implant for interbody fusion for spinal reconstruction after tumor surgery and different types of screw / rod techniques to improve surgical treatment of spinal deformity.