ALBANY, N.Y, May 11, 2005 ¾ Until recently, people suffering from chronic lower back pain caused by degenerative disc disease had few treatment options. Now, two surgeons at Albany Medical Center Hospital have become the first in the region to perform a new spinal disc replacement surgery using an artificial disc that not only relieves low back pain but also has the potential to significantly improve the patients’ flexibility and range of motion.
Robert Cheney, M.D., associate clinical professor of surgery at Albany Medical College and a member of the Capital Region Orthopedic Group, became the first surgeon in the area to perform this new surgery on March 9, 2005 at Albany Med. His patient, 38 year-old Mark Irvine of Ballston Lake, joined him at a news conference at the Medical Center on Wednesday to discuss this new advance.
Irvine, who had been suffering from back pain for years, had a partial discectomy approximately 10 years ago, which removed some of the pieces of his deteriorated disc. “That worked for a while,” said Irvine. “But eventually I was taking a lot of pain medication again and knew that something else needed to be done. I was referred to Dr. Cheney and he told me about this new procedure that would not only get rid of the pain, but also give me more flexibility. I did some more research and decided to have the procedure done. It has been very effective for me and now my pain has been greatly reduced.”
Cheney noted that the use of artificial discs to replace single degenerative discs is a notable advance in spinal surgery. “It offers us another alternative treatment for patients who have suffered for years from this debilitating condition.” The FDA approved the new procedure in October 2004 after two years of clinical trials in this country.
This surgery provides an alternative to the most common surgical treatment for low back pain, lumber spinal fusion, which joins vertebrae together using bone grafts. While most patients report relief from pain after spinal fusion surgery, the surgery often robs them of flexibility and range of motion, and can cause unnecessary wear on other discs.
By contrast, the new CHARITE artificial disc is designed to mimic normal disc motion and prevent the degeneration of adjacent discs. The high-tech device, engineered to last more than 15 years, is made of two metallic endplates with a movable medical grade plastic sliding core. The materials are similar to those that have been used successfully in artificial hip and knee replacements for several decades.
Typically, two surgeons work together in the operation. In the Irvine case, vascular surgeon Yaron Sternbach, M.D., a member of the Institute for Vascular Health and Disease, first approached the spine through an incision in the abdomen and carefully moved blood vessels and internal organs out of the way to provide access to the spine. Then, Cheney used special tools to remove the damaged disc and create space between two vertebrae for the implantation of the artificial disc. The procedure generally takes two to four hours and requires the patient remain hospitalized for approximately four days.
Darryl DiRisio, M.D., associate professor of surgery at Albany Medical College and a neurosurgeon at the Albany Medical Center’s Neurosciences Institute, has since performed the CHARITE spinal disc replacement surgery and produced similar positive results. DiRisio cautions, however, that while the procedure can be extremely beneficial to some it is not appropriate for all patients with back pain. “This surgery is only intended for those patients with single-level degenerative disc disease. Not every patient with lower back pain can be helped with this new procedure.”
About 65 million Americans suffer from low back pain every year, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS). Americans spend about $50 billion each year on low back pain, the most common cause of job-related disability and lost workdays. More than 12 million people are reported to have degenerative disc disease.
Cheney and DiRisio have received special training in the artificial disc surgery, as has Allen Carl, M.D., also of the Capital Region Orthopedic Group. The three surgeons have been designated as a regional training center on this procedure. Training centers are designated by physician rather than by facility. There are only 50 such centers in the country.
For more information, contact the Albany Med public relations department at 518-262-3421.