One Incision Back Surgery

December 28, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Thirty-one-million Americans suffer from it at any given time. Back pain is the leading cause of disability for people under 45. Physical therapy and meds can help some, but for those whose pain persists, there's a new surgery that uses one incision to ease the discomfort. It helped one woman get back on track. Pam Pohlar is at home in the kitchen, but it's also where a 10-year battle with back pain began.

"The more I was on my feet, the more I noticed it was hurting more and more," Pohlar told Ivanhoe.

She was a prisoner in her own home.

"I just wanted to sit and cry," Pohlar said. "It felt so bad. There were days I felt 90, 95 years old."

She took her health into her own hands and lost 45 pounds, but it didn't ease the pain. Then she found out she was a candidate for a lower back procedure that avoids cutting through any muscle. Through a 1.5-inch incision in the back, surgeons fuse two levels of the spine together and relieve pressure on the nerves.

"Typically, to fix a two-level problem, you have to make two different approaches to fix both levels, and this allows us to do it through one incision," Jim Billys, M.D., a spine specialist at the Florida Orthopaedic Institute in Tampa, told Ivanhoe.

Through the same incision, surgeons secure the area with small screws and rods. One incision avoids the risk of injury to important blood vessels and leaves no major scarring. Most patients go home the same day.

"Most people can have a 70 to 80 percent improvement in their activities of daily living," Dr. Billys said.

A year after surgery, Pohlar calls her progress amazing.

"I feel 95 percent normal now," she said.

She's back on her feet ... and keeping up.

"I went to Disney world and walked three days straight," Pohlar said. "I had no pain whatsoever."

Risks of the one-incision procedure include injury to the bowel, bleeding and infection, but Dr. Billys says the complication rate is under 1 percent. Candidates for the procedure have suffered chronic pain for years and have already tried other therapies like medication, epidurals and physical therapy.

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