Car jack for the back cuts rehab time

She just turned 37, but severe back pain made Janie Lee walk like she was a lot older. Janie could not escape the pain in bed or in a chair.

"Before I couldn't sit up straight at all. I held on to the chair to support myself like this," Lee said.

Because of her age, few doctors took Janie's pain seriously. She walked around hunched over for nearly 20 years. She even went to an ER, had an MRI, and doctors said it was normal.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Hyun Bae diagnosed her with spinal stenosis. Her spinal canal was narrowing and pinching her nerves. It's caused by the wear and tear of aging, but about 15 percent of the half a million spinal stenosis patients are born with a narrow spinal canal.

"Spinal stenosis is so common as you get older, but even younger patients can experience it and those patients, when it comes on it's very severe," Bae said.

Normally, patients undergo a spinal fusion. It's a major procedure, where screws are placed in the bone to stabilize the spine. Instead Janie had a minimally invasive procedure. Dr. Bae created a new device that acts like a car jack for the back.

"You can see how that just pinches the nerve root, and so all this does is that it really acts like a door stop to keep that open," Bae said.

Instead of 10 days in the hospital, Janie was out in five. And the usual three to four months of rehab was shortened to three weeks.

"That's really what we're trying to do with spine surgery today is to minimize the trauma of spine surgery itself," said Dr. Bae.

Janie recalled the day she could finally lay flat in bed.

"My back is straightened up, and my life is getting straightened up," she said with a laugh.

Janie says she is so grateful to finally live a life without pain. She says she's planning a career in helping people with disabilities.

Bae's device and procedure, called ILIF, is FDA-approved for the treatment of lumbar spinal stenosis.



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