Implant key to back pain relief, study shows

March 22, 2011 3:16:38 PM PDT
Each year, Americans spend nearly fifty billion dollars on doctor's visits and treatments for lower back pain, but a new device may ease costs and suffering for many patients. A common culprit of lower back pain is called lumbar spinal stenosis, which affects approximately 1.2 million Americans, according to the Los Angeles Spine Institute.

The condition occurs when the spinal canal or the vertebral foramen is narrowed causing a painful compression of the nerves found in this region of the body. The pain can radiate from the back into the legs and groin.

Cheryl Dote has suffered for years with pain that has impacted her daily life as a full-time nurse and mother of five.

"I would be in tears some nights," says Cheryl.

At one point, the pain reached an all-time high.

"I actually thought I was going to end up in a wheelchair," she said.

Non-invasive treatments such as psychical therapy, pain relievers and injections are available, but are not always helpful. Another option is surgery that consists of large incisions and a lengthy recovery time. However, doctors at the Upstate Medical University in Syracuse are studying a breakthrough device that is much more effective and easier to use.

The Superion Interspinous Spacer can be implanted into the lower back through a half-inch incision. Once in place, the device works as a support column to open the passageways where nerves can be found. The compression on the nerves is reduced resulting in dramatic pain relief.

"It allows the spine to remain in a flexed position, mimicking the sitting position," says Orthopedic Spine Surgeon, Dr. Richard Tallarico of Upstate.

Cheryl had turned to the doctors at Upstate for help and they recommended the ISS implant.

"Compared to what we've had in the past, this is a much easier way to approach this from both the surgeon and the patient perspective," says Tallarico.

The small implant gave Cheryl her life back.

"It was 100 percent better. It's still 100 percent better," she says.

A study of the Superion spacer remains underway and the trial is open to patients across the United States. The FDA may approve the spacer if the study continues to show promising results.