Back Surgery: Closing the Gap

PITTSBURGH Imagine not being able to walk, sit or bend without feeling intense pain.

"By the time I came home every day, I was close to tears, and the only comfortable position I could find would be lying flat on the floor," back patient JoAnn Seaman told Ivanhoe.

A herniated, or damaged disc in Seaman's lower spine was pushing against a nerve. Surgery was the best option. Typically, doctors remove the portion of the disc causing the pain, but it leaves a hole behind. This can lead to another injury.

"At least 10 percent of the patients who have a discectomy will have a re-herniation of that disc," Eugene Bonaroti, M.D., a neurosurgeon at West Penn Allegheny Health System in Pittsburgh, Penn., told Ivanhoe.

Doctors are now testing a device designed to close the gap for good. The new repair system acts like a mini-sewing machine. The tip of the device is inserted into the disc wall. It anchors sutures on either side of the hole and pulls it shut for patients. It means reducing the risk of a second surgery.

"For him to give me the hope that I could keep this from re-herniating, I was excited about that," Seaman said.

Getting patients back on their feet-pain free, and keeping them that way.

Doctors say the repair system can't be used for every disc surgery. If the hole is too large or too close to the edge of the bone, it won't work. There's a risk the device will increase risk of infection or dislodge and move to another area of the body.

Dan Laurent
Public Relations
Allegheny General Hospital
(412) 359-8602

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