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New procedure to help cure lower back pain

August 16, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Eighty-percent of Americans will suffer low back pain at some point in their lives. For many patients with this type of backache, the problem may not be in their backs at all. But now a minimally-invasive surgery could help these patients find relief.Yard work used to be a pain for 66-year-old John Baxter.

"From both buttocks down both of my legs to my knees were totally fatigued when you walk. I had constant pain across my lower back and extreme pain, at times, depending on what you were doing," said Baxter.

Heavy lifting at work three years ago injured his sacroiliac joint (SIJ), located where the pelvis joins the spinal column.

Dr. Arnold Graham Smith, an orthopaedic spine surgeon, says for patients with persistent lower back pain, even surgical options are rare.

"Very few people are doing the major operation to open the joint up and pack it with bone chips. I'm one of those people who has done that, but for the great majority of people, there's been no treatment available at all," said Dr. Graham Smith.

He uses porous triangular rods in a new procedure to fix the joint -- a process called arthrodesis. Guided by live imaging, he cuts three slots across the sacroiliac joint then places the rods through the joint to stabilize it.

"The procedure works because it stops the joint from moving, and it's only movement which brings on the pain," said Dr. Graham Smith.

Three months after surgery Baxter has found relief. He's finally put his pain behind him and has a lot of work ahead of him.

"My back pain's gone, and the numbness down both legs is gone," said Baxter. "I'm thrilled to death."

The procedure is FDA approved.

Doctors say patients can suffer sacroiliac injuries at almost any age. Common causes ainclude automobile accidents, heavy lifting and sometimes even childbirth.