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New procedure may eliminate chronic back pain; doesn't require hospital stay

Dr. Charles Edwards explains microscopic lumbar decompression

HOUSTON – At any given time, 31 million Americans will experience back pain.

For some, the pain and numbness is caused by a problem in one of the discs in the back, the shock absorbers between the vertebrae.

Now, a minimally invasive technique is providing quick relief and getting patients on their feet faster than ever.

Michael Ryan is back to competitive biking these days. It’s just one of the ways he maintains a 50-pound weight loss.

"I believe the combination of me trying to exercise with all that extra weight really helped bring on the condition that I had," Ryan said.

Several years ago, Ryan began having sharp pains in his back and numbness in his legs and feet, caused by degenerative disc disease.

"Basically, my discs are dehydrating and squishing together," he said.

For the active 51-year-old, major back surgery would limit his mobility.

Instead, spine surgeon Dr. Charles Edwards recommended microscopic lumbar decompression. Rather than making a large incision, Edwards makes a one-inch incision in the back.

"I dissect the muscles over that area of the spine so that I can see the nerves themselves," Edwards said. "I then remove the portion of the disc which is pressing on the nerves and confirm the nerve is nice and free."

For Ryan, the pain and numbness went away immediately.

Four weeks after surgery, he was running again. Two years after surgery, he finished an Ironman Triathlon, qualifying for the world championships.

"It’s been a long road, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it had I not had the procedure," Ryan said.

Doctors usually recommend treating back pain conservatively. If medication and physical therapy don’t work, then a patient may be a candidate for spinal decompression surgery.

For many patients, the decompression is outpatient surgery and does not require an overnight stay.