PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Last year, 100 million work days were lost in the United States due to back pain alone.
If you or someone you know suffers from it, you know the pain can be debilitating and even devastating in some cases.
However, a new device may help to relieve back pain in some patients.
For Mary Ward, even simple activities like shopping or walking were nearly impossible because of a condition called lumbar stenosis.
“Mostly it was pain down the left leg. It would be very sharp and intense,” Ward said. “I couldn’t do my dishes without the pain being there and the longer you’re on your feet the more intense the pain becomes.”
The cause of the problem was in the bones of her lower back.
“She was active and relatively young. Her disc was relatively normal. It was only the joints in the back of the spine that were bad. But, she was very limited by her spinal stenosis and back pain from the bad joints,” AGH Neurosurgeon Dr. Donald Whiting said.
Lumbar stenosis is a when the tunnel through the spinal column in the lower back becomes narrow, most commonly, from wear and tear. Parts of the back bones get inflamed and thick, and the spaces for the spinal cord and for the nerves that go to the back and legs become pressed and pinched.
It’s actually a pretty common problem and many people have surgery to remove part of the back bones to make more room and release the pressure.
The procedure involves fusing the bones with rods and screws, to keep the spinal column strong. It does work, but there’s a drawback. It cuts down on the normal bending and flexibility the back is supposed to have.
That’s why doctors are studying an alternative to fusing the bones. It’s a device that mimics how the bones actually fit and move together, which is designed to relieve the pain of lumbar stenosis, while still maintaining motion in the lower back.
In the study, patients are chosen at random to get either the typical fusion or the experimental device. Then, doctors monitor them for motion and wear and tear above and below the device. Worldwide, there are only 100 patients with the device. Two of them are at Allegheny General Hospital.
“I was one of the first patients here getting it and we weren’t real sure what the risks were,” Ward said.
Ward had her surgery about two months ago.
“When I came out of surgery, I could immediately tell the difference,” Ward said. “It feels great and it did almost from day one.”
She still goes to therapy.
“I can bend over,” Ward said. “I’m doing my leg bends, crunches, and all the things that gave me problems before.”
However, she’s also doing all the things she loves.
“The ability at 40-years-old to be able to go dancing, go bowling, lift kids,” Ward said. “I can clean my house, do my dishes, I can walk and go to the store, I can go shopping if I want to.”
The device is currently only available through the research study.
One qualifying feature is that your disc, or the cushion of cartilage between the back bones, has to be normal.
If the disc is worn out or diseased as well, you will not be eligible.