Newer Treatments for the Aging Spine – May 2008

X-StopBack pain is a common complaint, affecting an estimated 60-80% of individuals at some time during their lives. Spinal Stenosis is a common degenerative condition where the spinal canal narrows causing a compression of the nerves. Spinal stenosis is the gradual result of aging and “wear and tear” on the spine from everyday activities. Some people are born with the condition, but most often it develops in people over the age of 50. Back problems are more prevalent in the older population; as the spine ages, there is a greater chance of developing this compression of the nerves, as well as instability (shifting) of the vertebrae, or compression fractures through the soft bone of the vertebral body.

People will usually experience pain in the back, buttock and thigh, which is typically worsened by walking or prolonged standing, and improved by sitting or lying down. A person may also experience leg pain, leg numbness or weakness, loss of balance and poor endurance during physical activities. Often surgical treatment is necessary to alleviate these symptoms. When surgery is necessary, back patients today can benefit from newer technologies that often make the surgery easier and speed recovery.

One of these newer technologies has found a place in the treatment of spinal stenosis. This treatment involves placement of a spacer between the spinous processes of the affected vertebrae. This spacer, called an X-stop, opens the affected vertebrae, indirectly relieving pressure from the spinal nerves. This is accomplished by stretching out the thickened ligament in the spinal canal and elevating the vertebrae, thus enlarging the space available for the nerves.

Drs. Gebhard and Clifford of Rocky Mountain Orthopaedic Associates have been implanting the X-Stop in selected patients since the summer of 2007. “This device is placed in the back as an outpatient procedure, without the need to remove bone and ligament or enter the spinal canal directly,” explains Dr. Gebhard. “Studies conducted by the FDA have found that 50% of patients had significant improvement with the X-Stop implantation.” Although the X-stop can be very effective for classic spinal stenosis symptoms, it is less successful in patients with osteoporosis or significant instability, and should not be used in patients with compression fractures.

Dr Clifford stresses the importance of being evaluated by a spinal surgeon who has wide experience with all of the conditions and treatments of the aging spine. “Because not every patient benefits from this treatment, the surgeon that you see in consultation may recommend a more conservative treatment, or he may recommend a different type of procedure,” adds Dr. Clifford. “You want to make sure you receive the best treatment for your particular condition.”

For more information, contact Rocky Mountain Orthopaedic Associates at 970-242-3535.