Spinal Stenosis is a disease is caused by a narrowing of the spaces in the lumbar — or lower third — of the spine. As a result, its sufferers feel pain, numbness, tingling or weakness running into the legs, making movement difficult.
Nationally, more than 400,000 Americans have lumbar spinal stenosis and as many as 1.2 million people have leg and back pain associated with any kind of spinal stenosis, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
The typical treatment is a laminectomy. That’s a surgical procedure in which doctors remove a small portion of the bone and tissue that are narrowing the spinal canal. The removal opens the space for the nerve root in an effort to eliminate the pain and weakness the patient had suffered. But the surgery is fairly invasive and not well tolerated by all patients.
However, it’s possible that patients could benefit from a new surgical implant called the X-STOP. The device is essentially a spacer — surgeons insert it into the area where the spine has narrowed, relieving the pressure on the nerve. The device is fitted to the patient, there are no screws and it’s removable so if a patient needs surgery later on, he or she can have it.
But, does the new device work? Dr. Jaime Alvarez, a neurosurgeon at Southwest Florida Neurosurgical Associates, says that the implant has several benefits.
Alvarez said the procedure requires less anesthesia, shorter hospital stays and patients risk less blood loss. Patients have about a four-week recovery period. It is covered by insurance and Medicare. But, the device isn’t for everyone, and in fact only a small subset of patients are eligible to receive the X-STOP. Reasons for exclusion include prior surgery, osteoporosis, infection and compression that affects more than two levels of the spine.
Alvarez said he’s done a dozen of the procedures with X-STOP, and considers nine of them a success.
When the device doesn’t relieve the symptoms, patients can still opt for the more standard surgery involving the removal of bone and disc material and sometimes stabilization of the spine with screws and rods.