Chronic Back Pain Breakthroughs

If you've ever suffered back pain, you're not alone; about eight in ten Americans will experience it at some point in their lives. But there's hope: Doctors and scientists are exploring new treatments to ease temporary and chronic back pain. Here are a few of the success stories.

By Michael J. Weiss from Reader's Digest | July 2007

Less-Invasive Back Pain Surgery with More Relief

Scientists estimate that about 7 million cases of lower back pain are caused by strain or injury to spinal disks, often striking weekend warriors who overdo it when exercising or tackling home improvement projects. In the past, treating disk-related pain involved physical therapy or epidural steroid injections to reduce inflammation. For serious cases of herniated, or “slipped,” disks, patients resorted to surgery, despite the hazards of infection and no guarantee of a cure.

While some patients will still need surgery, doctors have been developing less invasive methods to reduce painful disk pressure on adjacent nerve roots. One of the most advanced decompression techniques, percutaneous diskectomy, involves removing a small amount of tissue from the disk nucleus through a tiny puncture in the skin. Some compare it to releasing air from a bulging tire. Doctors can choose from several recently introduced probes. The Stryker Dekompressor scoops out disk material through a needle, creating a space that draws the disk back to its normal alignment. The ArthroCare SpineWand sends out an electrical charge that creates a highly focused plasma field to vaporize and extract tissue.

With either instrument, the procedure lasts less than an hour, and patients can go home with only a small bandage over the needle insertion site. Best of all, at least two-thirds of appropriately selected patients experience positive results.

“The relief is instantaneous,” says Netsere Tesfayohannes, MD, director of the Interventional Pain Management Center at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. “You know right away whether the treatment has worked.”

Next: Flexible fusion for greater movement

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