A small device could help some people avoid a major surgery.
It's for a back condition that affects more than two million Americans and is the most common reason for back surgery in people over age 50.
It's called lumbar spinal stenosis. Not too long ago, it made walking torture for Jean May. She describes it as a hard, burning pain that would travel down into her legs.
Dr. Mike Smith of Kansas Orthopedics and Sports Medicine says lumbar spinal stenosis is a condition where the discs wear out, which causes the joints to wear out and the ligaments to thicken. All of that squeezes in on the nerves, causing pain.
Jean got shots to treat it, but after a couple years, it wasn't working anymore. She says it got to the point where she was breaking activities like cleaning the house into several short bursts. If she went to the mall, she was constantly looking for a bench so she could sit down to relieve the pain.
"It almost stops you where you are," she said.
In the past, Jean would be facing major surgery. But then, Dr. Smith told her about a new device called the X STOP System. He says it's a device that fits between the vertebra, spreading things apart a bit, giving the nerves more room.
Dr. Smith says the X STOP is the first time doctors have an option that falls between shots and therapy, and a major surgery that would involve a three to four day hospital stay. He says X STOP is much less invasive. He says you don't expose the nerves at all, it's done with a local or a short general anesthesia, patients typically go home in less than 24 hours and they're up and around right away.
In February, Jean became the first patient in Kansas to get the X STOP. She says almost immediately, she was free of the pain.
Dr. Smith says people who get the X STOP do need to limit their activities for six weeks. Also, he says it's not known how permanent a solution it is. The FDA approved it last November, after studies showed it effective after two years of use. But Dr. Smith says the X STOP doesn't correct the condition itself, so it's not known how much longer than two years it will last.
The X STOP is not recommended for people who have significant scoliosis or instability of the spine. Also, patients, in particular those with osteoporosis, run the risk of a bone cracking as the device is put into place, and, since it doesn't actually attach to the bone, it is possible the device could pop out of place.
But Jean is grateful the X STOP has her back on her feet.
"It's a new lease on life," she said.
The Food and Drug Administration has more on the X STOP system at www.fda.gov/cdrh/mda/docs/p040001.html. You can also find out more about lumbar spinal stenosis from the North American Spine Society, www.spine.org/articles/lumbarspinalstenosis.cfm or from the National Institutes of Health, www.niams.nih.gov/hi/topics/spinalstenosis/ff_spinal_stenosis.htm.