New spine surgery has faster recovery

Report by Melissa Voetsch - email | bio
Posted by LS

(WTOL) - Surgery that requires fusion of the spine is common. Although it can ease pain and suffering, the operation can create lasting restrictions. Now, a San Antonio surgeon is testing a new technique that may keep patients pain free and flexible.

Alfredo Rodriguez of San Antonio knows the pain of spinal stenosis. The nerves in his lower back are compressed by age and disease to the point where he can barely walk.

"I'm in a lot of pain, and I cannot walk far. I go numb from my waist down. Completely numb. I'm willing to try anything to get well again," Rodriguez tells us.

Rodriguez is taking part in a clinical research study of a new method to reduce pressure on nerves. It's called the Coflex implant, a tiny device made of titanium. Dr. Frank Kuwamura is the San Antonio surgeon trying out this new approach at the South Texas Spine and Surgical Hospital. He releases the pressure on the nerves, and then inserts the u-shaped Coflex device, which restores the distance between the vertebrae. It provides what's called "dynamic stabilization" preserving motion while it stabilizes the spine. Recovery is much quicker than conventional fusion surgery.

"By six weeks, these patients are fairly fully functional. Going back to work, enjoying sports, and really engaging themselves back into their life at a much quicker pace and with less problems with less surgery," says Dr. Kuwamura.

Kuwamura says, "If things change, and if their symptoms change, I haven't burned any bridges. I can always do the traditional surgery that we're all trained to do very well."

So far, 20 patients here have got the device with the goal of 350 patients nationwide. In Europe, it's already been placed in thousands of people. One advantage is that doctors can still do a fusion later, if necessary.