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Thomas J. Cartwright, MD
Spine Surgery & General Orthopaedics
Dr. Thomas Cartwright embarked on his medical career in the summer between high school graduation and college, when he took a job restocking anesthesia carts in the operating rooms at Houston Northwest Medical Center. "That made a big impression on me," he says. "That's when I knew I wanted to be a doctor."
He went on to get his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. He completed his internship at John Peter Smith in Fort Worth, and his orthopaedic residency at New York City Catholic Medical Center. After his residency, Dr. Cartwright completed two fellowships to further his expertise on injuries and diseases affecting the human spine; the first at the Texas Back Institute in Plano, Texas, and the second at The Center for Spinal Studies at Queen's Medical Center in Nottingham, England. Dr. Cartwright is board certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery and a charter diplomate of the American Board of Spinal Surgery. In addition, he is a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Dr. Cartwright specializes in the treatment of cervical, thoracic and lumbar spinal problems that arise either as the result of a traumatic or degenerative situation. These include disk injuries, including herniated disks, and the painful nerve inflammation that can result.
Like his KSF Orthopaedic colleagues, Dr. Cartwright favors a conservative approach in the treatment of back pain. The first thing he prescribes is medication to control the pain, combined with physical therapy to help strengthen the back and abdominal muscles and further stabilize the spine. Epidural steroid injections are also helpful in reducing pain and inflammation. If patients do not respond well to these measures and still feel their pain is unmanageable, Dr. Cartwright will then consider surgical alternatives.
Even though Dr. Cartwright characterizes the pain of pinched nerves as some of the most awful pain you can experience, he still believes in trying the conservative approach first.
"I consider myself a good surgeon, but most people can get better without surgery," he says. "One of the most important rules of medicine is: 'First, do no harm.' I really believe in that. A lot of the procedures we do are potentially risky. Even in the best and surest hands, complications do occur, so I always try conservative treatments first."
According to Dr. Cartwright, the most common cause of back injuries is falls or some type of jarring injury where you might catch yourself or strain while lifting. But Dr. Cartwright believes many back injuries could be avoided if people took the time to keep themselves physically fit, particularly if their work involves heavy lifting and carrying.
"The most important thing to prevent injury and keep the back strong is exercise." Dr. Cartwright says. "We have brochures we give to our patients for exercises they can do on their own, or, in more serious cases, we will give them a prescription for physical therapy."
What satisfies Dr. Cartwright most about dealing with spinal problems is that orthopaedics is such a well-defined medical arena. "You identify a problem and you treat that problem with a definitive treatment, as opposed to treating someone with a chronic condition like hypertension, which is really a matter of control. My work is fascinating and really satisfying, because I see excellent outcomes on a regular basis."
He lives with his wife and four children in the north Houston area. In his spare time, he enjoys spending time with his family, and also likes to swim, golf and fish.