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Doctors study easy way to relieve back pain

March 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Americans spend at least $50 billion a year trying to treat low back pain.

One of the most common causes of lower back and leg pain is a major reason people end up on the operating table. But now doctors are studying an effective and relatively easy way to relieve people of the pain.

As a full-time nurse with five children, Cheryl Dote spends a lot of time on her feet. For the last four years, she's done that with debilitating back and leg pain.

"I would be in tears some nights," said Dote.

She tried physical therapy, pain relievers and pain injections, but the pain always won.

"I actually thought I was going to end up in a wheelchair," said Dote.

Like more than a million other Americans, she has lumbar spinal stenosis. In her search for help, she found Dr. Richard Tallarico from Upstate Medical University.

"In the most aggressive forms, patients can't stand to walk for even a few minutes," said Tallarico. "So it's very functionally disabling."

Standing or walking compresses the spine and pinches the nerves, causing pain. Patients only get relief when they're sitting or stooped over. Now, Tallarico and a team of doctors are studying the Superion Spacer to relieve the pain.

"Compared to what we've had in the past, this is a much easier way to approach this from both the surgeon and the patient perspective," said Tallarico.

First, surgeons make a half-inch incision in the back. The spacer is inserted where it's needed and acts like a wedge, which permanently spreads open the spinal canal.

"It allows the spine to remain in a flexed position, mimicking the sitting position," said Tallarico.

Dote had the spacer put in and said the relief she feels changed her life.

"It was 100 percent better," said Dote. "It's still 100 percent better."

Now her focus is on her kids, instead of her pain.