Mimi Murphy's Medical Breakthroughs: Better Back Surgery

Medical Breakthroughs
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Four out of five adults experience lower back pain. More than 150,000 of them have spinal fusion surgery, but that can also cause pain and trouble moving. Now, doctors have a new approach.

Two days after back surgery, Sherrie Devencenzi is up, walking around.

"There's just a little pressure on my tailbone and just a pinching when I sit up. Other than that, it feels pretty good," Devencenzi said.

She is one of the first patients at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland to undergo a new type of back surgery.

Orthopaedic Spine Surgeon Robert A. Hart, M.D., says traditional spine surgery required a large open procedure from the back, where the muscles are stripped away from the spine. During the new procedure, doctors drill smaller holes on either side of the spine, using an X-ray to guide them. Then, they insert screws into the vertebrae and hold them in place using a rod guided by a metal arc.

"As we swing that arc down, that rod finds the two screws and interlocks, interconnects between the two screws," Dr. Hart said.

Like traditional fusion surgery, the hardware stays inside to stabilize the spine. Because this surgery is done from the outside, there's less pain, less scarring and for most patients, a shorter recovery.

"I'm thinking I wished I would have done it much sooner," Devencenzi said.

The procedure is called sextant back surgery because the tool surgeons use looks like a sextant, which is a sailor's navigational tool. It is a bit more expensive than traditional fusion surgery, but the cost is often offset with the shorter hospital stay.

If you would like more information, please contact:

Oregon Health & Science University
(503) 494-1143