New procedure for lower back pain

August 16, 2010 3:05:47 PM PDT
The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation say 80 percent of Americans will suffer lower back pain at some point in their lives.

For many patients with aching in their lower backs, the problem may actually be in their sacroiliac joint, the joint that connects the back and hip. Now, a minimally-invasive surgery could help these patients find relief.

When 66-year-old John Baxter says yard work used to be a pain in the butt, he's not kidding.

Baxter injured his low back "from both buttocks down both of my legs to my knees were totally fatigued when you walk. I had constant pain across my lower back and extreme pain, at times, depending on what you were doing," he said.

Heavy lifting at work three years ago injured his sacroiliac joint or SIJ. It's where the pelvis joins the spinal column.

Spine surgeon Dr. Arnold Graham Smith says for patients with persistent pain, even surgical options are rare. "Very few people are doing the major operation to open the joint up and pack it with bone chips. I'm one of those people who has done that, but for the great majority of people, there's been no treatment available at all."

Dr. Graham Smith uses these porous triangular rods in a new procedure to fix the joint, a process called Arthrodesis. Guided by live imaging, he cuts three slots across the sacroiliac joint then places the rods through the joint to stabilize it.

"The procedure works because it stops the joint from moving, and it's only movement which brings on the pain," adds Dr. Graham Smith.

Three months after the surgery, Baxter felt like a new man. "I have no pain at all down there," he said.