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At any given time, 31 million Americans will experience back pain. (KFSN)

At any given time, 31 million Americans will experience back pain. For some, the pain and numbness is caused by a problem in one of the discs in the back, the shock absorbers between vertebrae. Now, a minimally-invasive technique provides quick relief and gets patients on their feet faster than ever.

Michael Ryan is back to competitive biking these days. It's just one of the ways he maintains a 50-pound weight loss.

Ryan told Ivanhoe, "I believe the combination of me trying to exercise with all that extra weight really helped bring on the condition that I had."

Several years ago, Ryan began having sharp pains in his back and numbness in his legs and feet, caused by degenerative disc disease.

"Basically my discs are dehydrating and squishing together," explained Ryan.

For this active 51-year-old, major back surgery would limit his mobility. Instead, Charles Edwards, M.D., medical director of Maryland Spine Center at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, recommended microscopic lumbar decompression. Rather than making a large incision, Dr. Edwards makes a one-inch incision in the back.

Dr. Edwards detailed, "I dissect the muscles over that area of the spine so that I can see the nerves themselves. I then remove the portion of the disc which is pressing on the nerves and confirm the nerve is nice and free." (Read Full Interview)

For Ryan, the pain and numbness went away immediately. Four weeks after surgery he was running again. Two years after surgery, he finished fourth in his age group in the Arizona Ironman Triathlon, qualifying for the world championships.

"It's been a long road, but I wouldn't have been able to do it had I not had the procedure," said Ryan.

Doctors usually recommend treating back pain conservatively. If medication and physical therapy don't work, then a patient may be a candidate for spinal decompression surgery. For many patients, the decompression is outpatient surgery and does not require an overnight stay.

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