Medical Breakthrough for Severe Back Pain

Winter 2000 CSANews Issue 37  |  Posted date : Mar 07, 2007.Back to list

In 1998 a study was done on approximately 200 people with severe back pain which, in many cases, prevented them from doing the normal things in life we all take for granted.
The study included 80 people with osteoporosis who had resulting compression fractures in their spine.

The procedure was pretty simple ­ inject some cement in the vertebrae in their back. Included with the cement was some tungsten for strength, antibiotics to prevent infection, and some barium so you could see the results on an X-Ray. The results were astounding, at least to me. Over 90% of the people with osteoporosis had almost complete relief from their previous pain and over 80% of the others had dramatically reduced pain and much improved mobility. Even more astounding was that no one seemed to really understand why. There were lots of theories, such as, the spine's load bearing ability was increased; the direct application of heat was curative; and/or, pressure on the nerves had been relieved. In reality, who cares why. It worked!

Percutaneous Vertebroplasty, that's the name of the procedure and, if you have back pain, both you and your doctor should know exactly what it is and whether it might be applicable to your particular situation.

Osteoporosis affects more than 30 million people per year in North America. Researchers estimate that at least 25 percent of all women, and a somewhat smaller percentage of men, over the age of 50 will suffer one or more vertebral compression fractures due to the natural bone loss of osteoporosis. The compression fractures often progress resulting in loss of height, disability, and secondary complications from immobilization including pneumonia and pulmonary embolism. Pain experienced by these people has conventionally been treated with acetinophen (Tylenol), non-steroidals (Motrin), and narcotics (Perocet). These old-school technologies did little to prevent further decay and, in some cases, treatments with steroids such as Prednisone actually increased the severity of the condition.

Prednisone is often used as a treatment for arthritis and one of its many side effects is, guess what, osteoporosis. There is even a special term for this, it is called Steroid Induced Osteoporosis. I have first-hand knowledge of this, as my mother was being treated for arthritis and subsequently developed serious osteoporosis caused by her medicines. She was taking Prednisone, eight Tylenols a day and Codine-laced Tylenol, at night. Then she met two wonderful doctors ­ Dr. Walter Montanera and Dr. Stewart Wright at Toronto Western Hospital. Dr. Montanera performed a percutaneous vertebroplasty on one vertebra in her spine and the results have been amazing. No more Prednisone, no more Tylenol! Mom is still not perfect, but most of the back pain seems to have disappeared and the drugs, which caused her initial problems, are no longer necessary. That, in itself, is a huge victory for this procedure.

In a recent article in the Mayo Clinic Rochester News, Dr. Timothy Maus, a Mayo Clinic radiologist was quoted: "The outcome of the patients we have treated has been very encouraging. Before development of this technique, the only treatment for these patients was wearing a brace, taking analgesics and bed rest. This ongoing treatment was often as life altering as the condition, itself. Now, we are able to offer patients a minimally invasive treatment that can provide significant pain relief and give them back their mobility".

Percutaneous Vertebroplasty is now starting to be recognized across North America because of its simplicity (often, on an out-patient basis) and the, sometimes, dramatic lifestyle changes it can have. We believe it to be covered by our provincial health plans and if you think it may pertain to a condition you have, get to your doctor and get more information. It's new, so not every doctor is familiar with it, and you may have to be assertive.

I'm definitely not a doctor, but I know a miracle when I see one. Maybe there's a miracle waiting in your future, I certainly hope so.