• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Implant helps ease sacroiliac back pain

January 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
It's a tough word to say, even more puzzling to learn about. But if you suffer from chronic back pain, "sacroiliac" is something worth researching. It's part of a back problem that is often over looked or even misdiagnosed.There is a new, less invasive way to treat the pain.

Each year about a million Americans complain of low back pain that does not originate in their spine.

The sacroiliac joint is located right next to the hip bone. Fixing it requires major surgery.

One local man found fast relief through an experimental procedure.

Six weeks after surgery, 51-year-old Jeff Pellisier of West Hollywood is ready to take on the world. He's a surfer, big-game hunter and mountain climber. But last year, nagging low back pain nearly grounded him for good.

"By the middle of last year I pretty much quit doing all that stuff, because any sort of physical activity aggravated it terribly," said Pellisier.

It was a burning, debilitating ache that had gone undiagnosed for years. The cause? Possibly an old injury from when Jeff used to ride bulls.

"We roped cattle, rounded them up, rode them, and at that point in time I got stepped on rather badly by a bull," said Pellisier.

Pain in the sacroiliac joint could be caused from wear and tear with age or from injury. Studies show that 25 to 30 percent of low back pain originates from the sacroiliac joint.

The pain went away when doctors injected an anesthetic around the joint. That's how doctors diagnosed it. To fuse it would require major surgery.

"The only way we can treat them was actually do an open fusion: You have this big incision in your pelvis, we'd go down, move all the muscles, get to the joint, strip the joint clean, drill it out and then put these big plates to actually fix it," said Dr. Neel Anand, director of orthopaedic spine surgery, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

That's when Anand told Pellisier about the iFuse Implant.

"We can actually fix this joint through a very small incision, all over a wire, and yet get solid fixation across the joint completely and minimally invasively," said Anand.

People who are not candidates are those with prior pelvic issues or old hip fractures.

For Pellisier, the procedure worked perfectly.

"I'm completely pain-free. I'm going back to the gym, swimming. I'm going dog-mushing in March in Alaska," said Pellisier.

The recovery time for the procedure is about two weeks, compared to six months for conventional surgery.

The iFuse Implant system is commercially available in the United States. It's been used in hip surgery and foot surgery.