As we age normal activities cause “wear and tear” on the spine, which can result in a condition known as spinal stenosis. This results in a narrowing, where the nerves branch out from the spinal column, which can squeeze and irritate the nerves resulting in back pain, leg pain, general weakness, and a loss of balance. Spinal stenosis is a condition that occurs in people over 60-years-old.
Mild and moderate pain symptoms can be controlled with pain medicines, exercise, physical therapy, and even a corticosteroid shot that reduces inflammation. However, for about 20% of those suffering from spinal stenosis surgery is required. The operation is called laminectomey and involves removing part of a vertebrae to create space for the nerves, relieving pressure on the spinal cord or the spinal nerve roots. A patient typically has a hospital stay of 2 or 3 days and can expect a 2 or 3 month recovery time.
Dr. Paul Maurer, associate professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center, has performed a new procedure called the X-stop. The X-stop is a tiny titanium device that is shaped like a bird with two sets of wings, and is designed to fit between the small bony protrusions that jut out from the spinal column toward the back. The surgeon makes a small and relatively superficial incision, and carefully places the X-stop device in the effected area. The “wings” secure the implant between the spinal processes, so that X-stop remains in place without attaching to the bone or ligaments in the back.
Not everyone with spinal stenosis is a good candidate for the X-stop. Patients with spinal stenosis that is limited to one or two vertebrae have the best outcomes. It is a 20-minute procedure that has the potential to relieve pain and one that could be considered before radical measures are taken. If it doesn’t work out as expected the more radical surgery may be required.