For many, back pain is one of the harsh realities of aging. Spinal stenosis occurs when the spaces within the spine narrow, which then adds pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine.
The vertebrae of the spine support the head and body while soft tissue discs between the vertebrae serves as “shock absorbers” for every day movement and activity. When this flexible column narrows over time, symptoms can include pain, tingling, numbness and muscle weakness.
Lumbar spinal stenosis specifically refers to this condition in the lower back.
“It tends to cause back and leg pain that is worse with activity and improved with rest, specifically it can be improved by leaning on a shopping cart as you push it around the store,” said Dr. Jessica Jameson, an interventional pain physician with Axis Spine Center in Post Falls. “It tends to be a degenerative process affecting age 50 and over… basically if you live long enough you will have some stenosis.”
Physical therapy, chiropractic care, steroid injections and other pain medications can all treat the symptoms of spinal stenosis. Medication and injections like epidurals, however, are not improving the medical condition, Dr. Jameson said.
“It’s not fixing the mechanical problem, and the only way to do that is to make more room for the nerves,” she said.
Spinal surgery then becomes an option for those who aren’t getting enough relief, but many older patients can have other health conditions that exclude them from being candidates for major back surgery.
However, Axis Spine Center has recently employed a minimally invasive procedure for indirect lumbar decompression. It utilizes a small implant which opens the spinal canal and relieves pressure on the nerves. Essentially, it’s like leaning on the shopping cart without needing to lean forward.
The Superion implant is made of titanium and is available in different sizes to best match spinal anatomy. It is intended for patients with moderate spinal stenosis who have tried at least six months of conservative care treatment without finding pain relief, which is usually some combination of physical therapy and medication.
“This is one of the more exciting things on the back pain front,” Jameson said. “The incisional pain is maybe about a day or so, and most of my patients don’t go home with any pain medication. Patients can gradually increase their activity, but you really don’t have any restrictions.”
The procedure takes only about 30 minutes at a hospital operating room or outpatient surgical center utilizing a local anesthetic.
“The incision is about an inch or so,” Jameson said. “It’s a very small device and that’s what makes the recovery so quick.”
“The procedure and implant is not rearranging any of the anatomy of the spine so that if they need further intervention in the area they can,” she continued.
Jameson said Axis Spine tracks the results of patients after the procedure and has been encouraged by the findings so far.
“The results have been really remarkable… people are getting well over 70 percent relief in their back and leg pain,” she said.
Jameson said Medicare typically covers the procedure after the six months of unsuccessful non-surgical methods, and the office can work with patients’ private insurance to determine coverage needs. She said the implant is part of a greater push for minimally invasive procedures that can produce results and better limit the use of potentially dangerous and addictive medications.
“The technology we’ve seen advance over the course of the last five years doesn’t even compare to even the last 20 years,” Jameson said. “It’s things that patients want, and it’s really cool stuff. When you think about the number of people out there with chronic pain, we really need these advancements.”
For more information on lumbar spinal stenosis and potential solutions, visit AxisSpineCenter.com or call (208) 457-4208. Axis Spine Center is located at 1641 E. Polston Ave. Ste 101 in Post Falls.