New Help for Back Pain

By: Jarrod Aldom
By: Jarrod Aldom

About five million Americans miss work every year because of back pain. WHSV found out how a new procedure might make some types of back pain a thing of the past.

Almost 23 million Americans have experienced back pain...nearly one in every 10 of us. It's estimated back pain costs the economy between 9 and 20 billion dollars a year in lost productivity and treatment.

"It tends to affect many people in the prime of their life, a time where they are most productive in terms of their jobs," says Dr. Greg Anderson, an orthopedic spinal surgeon at UVA Medical Center. "So if someone has a problem that prevents them form working it really has a very significant societal and economic impact."

But help may be on the horizon in the form of an artificial disc for your back. It's long been in use in Europe, but has just recently arrived here.

"For certain types of degenerative conditions where the problem is largely a fact of the disc itself wearing out, they probably will have a role," says Anderson.

Replacing a degenerated disc with an artificial one would save some patients from having their spine fused, which has problems of its own.

"There's concerns that when a level is fused, the adjacent levels will see more of a load that's placed on the spine and potentially it will accelerate wear at those levels and possibly further problems for the patient," explains Anderson.

But Dr. Anderson stresses the discs are not a cure-all.

"For patients that have advanced narrowing of their spinal canals or patients that have a large fragment of disc that's herniated, people would still need something in addition to or perhaps other than an artificial replacement," he explains.

The discs are being developed for both the neck and lower back. Dr. Anderson says you could see the back disc as early as next spring, but the neck type is probably three to four years away.

He says the best way to prevent disc degeneration is avoiding smoking, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

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