Hi, my name is Chris Glattes. I am an orthopedic surgeon in Nashville and Franklin, TN with Elite Sports Medicine + Orthopedics, and I specialize in spine surgery.
I grew up in Kansas City, and anyone that is from that area always wants to know, did you grow up on the Kansas side or the Missouri side? Technically I was born on the Missouri side, but my parents raised me on the Kansas side.
Most of my hobbies stem from spending time with my dad, he was a true rags to middle class. He was not rags to riches, but he literally grew up in a church basement in New York City.
His dad was a Janitor, so he went through the Navy to get his education and then ended up going into engineering with IBM. He was very much a mechanical engineer type, so basically everything that I grew up with centered around some form of working in the garage and working on cars.
That was a big thing, every Saturday and Sunday we spent time in the garage restoring vehicles. That partly drove me into orthopedics because there is a lot of engineering and biomechanics and things like that with what we do.
What Patients do You See?
We see just about everything that causes back pain or neck pain.
Depending on age, everyone present with different conditions. With teenagers, we see a lot of stress injuries. Young adults are interesting to take care of because they develop disc herniations and some real pathologies that cause them trouble.
I think that it is kind of the psychology of their first injury, so it is sometimes a shock and they realize that they are not always invincible.
The lion's share of our surgical cases typically come from patients that are in their 40-60 age range.
Once patients reach their 70’s and 80’s, we will see fractures, and sometimes some stenosis issues related to pressure on the nerves, the neck, and the back. Most people we operate on is typically in the middle age range.
What Drove You to Become an Orthopedic Surgeon?
The thing that drove me into medicine and orthopedics was my mom. She was actually a surgical scrub nurse.
Anyone that knows how the hospitals work these days knows that now, most of the people that work with us are called surgical technicians. These are the folks that pass us the instruments. They were all registered nurses, and so my mom was a surgical scrub registered nurse and that is what she did.
She worked for the University of Kansas Department of Orthopedics in the 70’s, and she worked at a community hospital called St. Joseph’s in the 80’s, so she was a pretty big influence for me becoming an orthopedic surgeon.
She loved doing orthopedics, and she could do just about everything as far as OR work. She was an important person as far as directing me into medicine. Again, the natural inclination of wanting to do something biomechanical brought me into orthopedics.
Why Did You Choose to Work at Elite Sports Medicine + Orthopedics?
It goes back to the folks that I worked with during residency. Just about everybody that I work with now, I had met somewhere along the way, including Dr. Elrod.
Even though Burton was already out in private practice when we were residents, we did have an opportunity to meet him a few times. He had a great time in the OR, you could tell, and he was obviously technically gifted. But he had a certain knack with how he handled patients.
My first practice was up in Kansas City and I was there for about 5 years. Most of my patients that came to me that ended up requiring surgery came from my sports medicine doctor.
I got very well connected with Vince Keys, one of the doctors for the Kansas City Royals and the Kansas City Chiefs. It was kind of a natural thing if I was going change practices and move back to Nashville to join a sports medicine group.
What Does it Mean to Specialize as an Orthopedic Surgeon?
To specialize in orthopedics, basically you become hyper-focused in one area. We are just like any other human beings; we cannot be great at everything even though we’d like to think we are.
Orthopedics is complicated enough and there are enough subspecialties that you really cannot do a great job at everything.
It is always best in my opinion to find something that you really get connected with and then focus your work on that. For me, it meant becoming a spine specialist.
Why Did You Become a Spine Specialist?
The spine is interesting. There are a lot of biomechanics with spine surgery.
Some of the technical aspects of spine surgeries we do such as using microscopes and tiny little tools, I thought was interesting and drove my continued desire to learn. But then there is a lot of psychology involved with spine.
Spine surgery has a unique blend of those two things. Until you are a patient yourself, you do not understand how important the psychology of getting better is.
One of the things with spine surgery that I think is cool is that there is a lot of crossover from sports medicine. There is a lot of people that come in thinking that they have a spine problem when it is a hand, shoulder, or a hip joint condition.
You must listen to the patient and do a very straightforward examination. You watch them walk, just basic things, and you can usually figure things out quickly where the issue lies.
The nice thing is with having all the subspecialties covered within our practice. As a spine specialist, it is comforting to have such easy access to other orthopedic surgeons for my patients.
How do You Value the Patient Experience?
Until you are a patient yourself, you do not realize how scary it is to not really know what is going on.
Luckily, I have been healthy throughout my years, but occasionally, you find yourself sitting at a doctor’s office, and you need to put yourself in your patients’ shoes.
You must be empathetic - understand how things affect certain patients. It may affect others in a different way, and it is a difficult thing to do.
If you always remain empathetic and you understand different things that patients have to work through, that’s the most important part about improving the patients’ experience.
What Makes Elite Unique?
I would describe Elite as being a team within a team. The smaller teams we all get to pick and choose, which we are lucky that we get to do that. If you surround yourself with good people, they can make your life so much more enjoyable. I have great mid-levels and great clinical assistants that really get me through the tribulations of doing what we do.
What is an Operator Microscope and How Does it Affect Your Job?
The operator microscope is a way to visualize very small parts of spinal anatomy. Many of the parts that we work with are tiny; there's small little nerves, little blood vessels, and more that we have to work around.
The problem we face when we do not use a microscope is related to incisions. You have to have somebody assist with surgery, and the incisions can be extremely small. My big head is sitting there with the wound and the person that's supposed to be assisting me can't see anything.
The operator microscrope kind of takes that out of the equation because the instrument sits right on top of the incision. This allows us to see all of the anatomy; I get to look straight forward, the assistant looks straight forward, and we can both see exactly the same thing which is pretty helpful.
It is also helpful from a health standpoint. In spine surgery, you have to use heavy headlights and sometimes magnifying glasses that weigh a lot. We're looking down all the time, and the microscope helps you to look straight forward. This biomechanically is a much better position for your neck and your back.
Dr. Chris Glattes has been with Elite Sports Medicine + Orthopedics since 2008. He has won the Castle Connolly Top Doctor award three consecutive years, making him one of the best back doctors in Nashville, TN.
If you are experiencing back pain, neck pain, numbness, or tingling, you can request an appointment with him or any of our other highly experienced orthopedic surgeons near you.