Chronic Back Pain? Spinal Fusion May Not Help

Most adults in the United States will suffer from excruciating chronic back pain at some time in their lives. For the lucky ones, it will be short-lived. For the others, it may continue for weeks, months, or even years.

Surgery is the attempted fix for more than 1.2 million Americans suffering from chronic back pain each year, and about 300,000 of these back surgeries were spinal fusion. This procedure is done for herniated discs or other disc injuries and involves joining vertebrae so they cannot move. Often they are held in place with metal screws or rods.

However, fusion was usually the wrong answer, according to Dr. Kevin Pauza, a founder of the Texas Spine and Joint Hospital, Tyler, Texas.

He has developed a minimally invasive, outpatient surgery that takes only about five minutes. The patient is given a local anesthetic, and then two blood plasma components – thrombin and fibrinogen – are injected. They combine to become Fibrin, an FDA-approved substance that is used off-label, which fills cracks and crevices and eventually allows the disc to re-grow. Dr. Pauza has treated more than 1,000 patients in his private practice, with a success rate of about 86%. He hopes for approval by the Food and Drug Administration by 2015 so that the procedure can be made generally available.

BioRestorative Therapies, Inc., a life sciences company in Jupiter, Fla., announced this week an improved version of its stem cell disc delivery device, to be used in treating bulging and herniated discs.

Mark Weinreb, CEO, said, “As our disc restoration program advances and we receive all necessary approvals, we look forward to easing the pain experienced by back and disc pain sufferers.”

Spinal fusion is used to relieve symptoms of many chronic back pain conditions, including degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, scoliosis, and fracture, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

Usually, spine surgery is recommended only when the doctor can find the exact source of the pain.

The Mayo Clinic cautions that surgery is needed in only a small percentage of chronic back pain cases. Most back problems respond to nonsurgical treatments, such as anti-inflammatory medication, ice, heat, massage, and physical therapy.

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