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New device helps relieve back pain

September 21, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Half a million people suffer from a painful back problem called spinal stenosis. The wear and tear through the years actually narrows your spine where the nerves pass through. Now, a new device being tested in the Los Angeles area is helping people get their backs back into shape.

Just a few months ago, 68-year-old Harry Roussos had to quit coaching soccer because the pain and numbness in his legs was just too severe.

"At one point actually I collapsed, I had a big problem on the soccer field," he said. "It hit me pretty hard. I was dribbling the ball and when I came close to the goal post I shot the ball, and the way I turned, it impacted my lower back."

Dr. Hyun Bae, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, implanted a spring called Coflex into Roussos' spine. The goal was to relieve the pressure on his spine and nerves.

A U-shaped titanium alloy device is inserted between two vertebrae, propping up the narrowed spinal canal.

"It's not stiff because it is this titanium U that really provides that spring," said Dr. Bae.

Traditional fusion surgery, where the vertebrae are fused together, limits mobility and it means a year of recovery.

Only 35 people in the U.S. have this Coflex device. Doctors say it helps patients retain flexibility and shortens recovery time to a month. But it will stiffen with age, and it's only available to those with leg and back pain.

Two days after Roussos' surgery, he was back on the pitch.

"As soon as I rolled out of the surgery room the pain was gone," he said.

While the Coflex device is still being investigated in the U.S., over 2,500 patients have had the procedure done in Europe.

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