Albany, N.Y., March 13, 2006 — For the thousands of people who experience the severe pain in their legs and back caused by Lumbar Spinal Stenosis (LSS), major surgery has been their only treatment option. That changed in the Capital Region recently when Richard Lenihan, 63, of Waterford, became the first person in the area to undergo a new minimally invasive surgical procedure at Albany Medical Center called X STOP, which successfully eliminated his pain.
According to Lenihan’s surgeon, Allen Carl, M.D., professor of surgery at Albany Medical College, and a member of the Capital Region Orthopedic Group, “LSS is the most common reason for major back surgery in people over age 50 in the United States. As people age, the space in the lower spine narrows and the nerves that go through it get squeezed, causing pain and numbness in the lower extremities.”
Mild LSS is usually treated with physical therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, and/or spinal injections. For severe symptoms, a surgical procedure called decompressive laminectomy is considered the current standard of care.
“The conventional surgery involves removing parts of the bone and tissue that are narrowing the spinal canal,” said Dr. Carl. “Many patients are unwilling to undergo a laminectomy because they want to avoid invasive, irreversible surgery, while others are unable to tolerate general anesthesia due to their age and/or other health conditions.”
People suffering from LSS commonly complain of difficulty walking even short distances, and in more advanced cases, do so with a characteristic stooped posture. Interestingly, the pain associated with this condition often disappears when the sufferer leans forward, such as when riding a bicycle or leaning over a shopping cart. “Bending forward widens the lumbar canal so that the nerves are no longer squeezed,” Carl explained.
The new procedure achieves this same result by surgically implanting “spacers” made of a titanium alloy that widen the spinal canal and create a permanent forward flexing of the spine — without any external change in posture. For appropriate patients, this is a relatively easy procedure that can help them avoid major surgery.
Lenihan was one of those patients. “I met with Dr. Carl and he explained the laminectomy to me. Then he mentioned this new procedure and I thought, ‘that sounds too good to be true’. But when I thought about the problems with surgery like loss of blood, drainage, pain and recovery time, I decided to try this new procedure.”
The X STOP procedure typically takes less than an hour and often patients experience immediate relief from their symptoms. Patients are usually able to walk out of the hospital within 24 hours due to the minor nature of the procedure and the minimal risk of systemic and local complications, as compared to a laminectomy that requires a 2-5 hour surgery and approximately a 4-5 day hospital stay.
“The surgery took about 45 minutes,” said Lenihan. “And 15 minutes later I was able to walk. It was truly miraculous.”
For more information, or to speak with Dr. Carl or Mr. Lenihan, contact Jackie McGinnis in the Albany Medical Center public relations office at 518-262-3421.