In our previous blog we discussed the tremendous stresses borne by the lumbar, or lower portion of the spine comprising the five lowest vertebrae. In fact, lumbar back pain is a significant health issue, affecting about 70 to 85 percent of Americans at some point in their lives, according the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Among the most common causes of lumbar spinal problems is the degeneration of bones and tissue in the spine that occur as a normal part of aging. But one doesn’t have to be older to have lumbar spinal problems. Back pain is the most frequent cause of activity limitation in people under the age of 45, according to the NIH. Trauma or injury, poor posture and biomechanics, genetics, obesity and poor muscle tone can all result in lumbar spinal problems that cause pain, limit mobility, and have other serious health consequences. These conditions include spinal stenosis, bulging disc, herniated disc, slipped disc, radiculopathy and spondylolisthesis.
A variety of treatment options are available for individuals affected by conditions causing lumbar back pain. Individuals with moderate to severe cases of these conditions who do not respond to conservative treatment options such as medication, physical therapy and lifestyle changes, may opt for a surgical solution. Frequently this involves cutting away portions of a lumbar vertebra that is impinging, or putting pressure on a nerve emanating from the spinal column. Such spinal decompression surgery can have a dramatic impact on relieving pain and restoring mobility. However, removing bony elements also weakens and destabilizes the spine, so historically a procedure known as lumbar fusion, or lumbar spinal fusion has been performed in conjunction with spinal decompression back surgery of the lower spine. In this procedure the vertebra from which tissue was removed is fused to an adjacent vertebra. This stabilizes and strengthens the spine, but lumbar fusion eliminates the natural flexion and independent motion of the fused vertebrae. Today lumbar decompression surgery patients have an alternative to lumbar fusion: the TOPS™ (Total Posterior Spine) System. TOPS preserves the full range of the spine’s natural motion, and has been shown to provide better outcomes than fusion in clinical studies performed around the world. If you are considering surgery for a lumbar spinal problem, ask your physician about all your surgical options.