Chronic Back Pain Breakthroughs | Reader's Digest

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

Flexible Fusion for Greater Movement

Each year, some 200,000 Americans with degenerative disk disease undergo spinal fusion surgery. The procedure stabilizes the vertebrae with metal rods and screws to allow a bone graft to fuse the vertebrae together. It can provide dramatic and long-term relief. But there’s a price. Spinal fusions limit a patient’s range of motion and can require follow-up surgery to alleviate stress on the vertebrae adjacent to the fused area.

But a new process called the Dynesys Dynamic Stabilization System uses bendable materials to provide support and greater movement. The system consists of flexible plastic tubing that surrounds a cord and spacers. During the surgery, doctors attach the device to both sides of the affected vertebrae. “The goal is to restore stability while preserving motion,” says Reginald Davis, MD, head of neurosurgery at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, who’s performed the surgery more than 200 times. “I’ve had success with patients from 21 to 75.”

The Dynesys system was approved for spinal fusion by the FDA in 2004, but in Europe, where the system has been on the market for a dozen years, it’s most commonly used to provide flexible stabilization of the vertebrae without bone fusion. Dr. Davis has joined a study involving 400 U.S. patients to determine its effectiveness for this use. He hopes the study will show the system’s ability to restore natural movement—without the need for follow-up surgery. “In Europe,” says Dr. Davis, “the new mantra for treating back pain is, Refuse to fuse.”

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