Austin Spine’s Dr. Ivan Cheng using latest techniques to treat all spinal pathologies

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Dr. Ivan Cheng is one of three fellowship-trained spine surgeons focused on treating all spinal pathologies, including complex spine deformities, with cutting edge treatment and technology at Austin Spine.

Dr. Cheng decided to specialize in spine because of the impact he could make on the quality of life for his patients. He has trained in every approach and tailors treatment to the individual patient, whether it be minimally invasive surgery, open procedures, or taking a conservative approach and treating patients non-operatively.

After earning a degree at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Cheng completed his residency in Orthopaedic Surgery at U.C. Davis and a Spine Surgery fellowship at Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to moving to Austin in 2021, Cheng spent the last 16 years at Stanford University where he was full Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Neurosurgery.

“Being at the forefront of research at Stanford was interesting because the spine is still very much a black box: We don’t fully understand a lot of the biology of spine pathology,” Dr. Cheng said. “Being able to perform spine research—I did research in disc degeneration and stem cells for spinal cord injury—really kept things fresh and exciting, and now I can bring that experience to patients in Austin.”

During his time at Stanford, Dr. Cheng gained experience with multiple types of surgery. Plus, performing research and treating patients together with both the Orthopaedic and Neurosurgery departments gave Cheng a rare collaborative opportunity which helped further develop his career.

“When I trained, we were really focused on larger open deformities,” he said. “Some of these surgeries took 8 or 10 hours to do. Those are big surgeries, and it’s not for everybody. I also developed my own experience in minimally invasive surgery. Having experience in both approaches and working with all my colleagues at Stanford, I gained a well-rounded perspective and approach to my patients.”

When working with patients, Dr. Cheng likes first hearing their history in detail, doing a physical, coming up with a diagnosis, and then custom tailoring their treatment, really taking the time to both develop a good relationship and use a research perspective.

“With my experience in both academic medicine during my 16 years at Stanford, and now in private practice, I can balance those different points of view,” he said.

Austin Spine features three fellowship-trained spine surgeons with more than 45 years of cumulative experience in spine surgery.

The surgeons treat any pathology dealing with the spine, including everything from the neck to the low back, and they know all the latest techniques and approaches using cutting-edge technology. The practice has three locations, including both Georgetown and Central Austin, along with a third new location in Lakeway.

One of the newer techniques used at Austin Spine is single-position surgery. In the past, when surgeons needed to address problems in the lower back, they would often have to go in the front, side, or back, or all three, which required repositioning a patient multiple times and took a lot of time.

“I started 15 years ago doing single-position surgery—putting someone on their side—and now we can go in the front of the spine, side and back all simultaneously,” Dr. Cheng said. “That not only saves time, it saves on anesthesia, decreases complication rates and shows superior outcomes. It’s really a fairly new technique, and we’re showing all of our data to be outstanding.”

Austin Spine also uses another cutting-edge disc replacement technology, primarily in the neck. Doctors place devices that preserve motion in the neck, which has shown to be superior to fusions. The practice can also help address revisions for patients, which means fixing past surgeries or treatment that has failed or delivered a less than ideal outcome.

“Seeing that difference I can make in people’s lives, that’s pretty special,” Dr. Cheng said. “There aren’t many people who get to be in this position. It’s incredibly gratifying. It’s a calling for me. That’s been more than satisfying for my career.”

Austin Spine treats patients of all ages, including children as young as 14 for pediatric scoliosis. There is no one subset of the population that is free of spine problems, Dr. Cheng said.

“The spine has almost every kind of pathology: degenerative problems like wear and tear, congenital things that you’re born with, deformities like scoliosis or postural problems. Then there are traumatic situations, and tumors or infections. All of these can occur in the arena of spine. I’ve seen all those pathologies in my career.”

As Cheng settles into the Austin community, he wants everyone to know he is thoughtful about how he approaches patients and surgeries.

“I take extra time to coordinate everything with the hospital and operating room staff so I can perform every surgery as meticulously, consistently, efficiently and in a conservative manner as possible,” Dr. Cheng said. “I want to be an integral part of the community and treat everybody properly and with respect.”

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