Local News

New Procedure To Ease Pain Of Spinal Fusion

Posted July 10, 2002 4:36 a.m. EDT

— Low back pain is the No. 1 cause of disability in the United States. This year, along more than 190,000 people will have spinal fusion surgery to ease their pain. There are details on a new procedure that is less painful and gets patients back on their feet faster.

Julie Reff loves working out, but last year, the pain from a degenerative disc was so bad she could hardly get out of bed.

"I'm such an active person. This affected everything. My life really changed," she said.

As the soft disc deteriorates, the two vertebrae can move together and pinch nearby nerves. To help ease the pain, surgeons often fuse the bones together.

"The standard spine fusion surgery requires harvesting of bone, which means an incision has to be made somewhere over the hip bone, take out pieces of that bone to use to get the spine to heal," orthopedic surgeon Dr. Thomas Zdeblick said.

There is now a less painful option. The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a procedure involving the INFUSE bone graft. Instead of bone, it uses a genetically engineered human protein and a dissolvable material that is placed inside two devices called spinal cages.

Surgeons insert them side-by-side between the vertebrae. Over time, the infused bone graft causes the body to grow its own bone, fusing the vertebrae together.

"It gives us a highly reproducible spinal fusion. Nearly 100 percent of patients were successfully infused," Zdeblick said.

Reff decided to have the surgery. Six months later, she was running again.

"I decided that my goal was to run a marathon," she said.

In clinical trials, patients who had this form of surgery spent less time in the operating room and experienced less blood loss with the same results compared to traditional surgery.