Posts Tagged ‘lumbar spine’

Ironman Triathlete Back on Track after Lumbar Laminectomy

Dr. Tim YoonWhen it comes to spinal disorders, there’s good news for the weekend warrior who enjoys vigorous athletic training and competitive sports activities. Being in great physical shape plays a large role both in your recovery and getting you back to an active lifestyle.

Joann Pope, one of my current patients, has an impressive athletic resume. She completed the half Ironman in Panama City, Florida, 21 times straight. She qualified for the world-famous Hawaiian Ironman seven times and finished four times. But two years ago, at the age of 74, her back started hurting and she had to stop racing due to lumbar spinal stenosis.

Lumbar spinal stenosis is a degenerative condition that causes a narrowing of the spinal column in the lower back, known as the lumbar area. This narrowing occurs when the growth of bone or tissue or both reduces the size of the openings in the spinal bones. This narrowing can squeeze and irritate the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord. It can also squeeze and irritate the spinal cord itself, causing pain, numbness, or weakness, most often in the legs, feet, and buttocks.

You might think that the physical stress of being a triathlete took its toll on Joann’s back, but that isn’t the case. In fact, if she hadn’t been in such great shape, her spine might have begun degenerating long before it did. For more than 20 years, Joann has been running, biking, and swimming. She was 47 when she started running, back in 1984. After she ran the Boston Marathon, her daughter talked her into doing a triathlon, the ultimate endurance test – a grueling three-part race with no stops.

So, thanks to her level of fitness, it’s as if Joann has the body of someone 20 years younger. Despite her active lifestyle , the lumbar stenosis progressed, and Joann’s pain, which came on slowly, continued to get worse.

Before Joann came to see me, she’d been experiencing lower back pain for a year. To address it, she’d been taking pain pills twice a day and was undergoing physical therapy, the first line of defense for lumbar stenosis. But when therapy didn’t ease her pain, her physical therapist told her she needed to see a surgeon. She chose to come to the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center.

In July of 2010, I performed a lumbar laminectomy and fusion on Joann. This procedure, also called a decompression, relieves pressure on the spinal cord or spinal nerve by widening the spinal canal. In Joann’s case, I removed the portion of the bony roof of the spine, or lamina, that was pressing on her lumbar nerves. Then I fused the two lowest lumbar vertebra, L4 and L5, with screws. When she woke up, the pain she had before surgery was gone.

Because Joann had been in such great physical shape before the surgery, she recovered rapidly and was swimming and walking again quickly. Now she’s walking two miles a day and is working up to getting back on her bike. Joann remains pain free and plans to go back to racing.

Have you had a lumbar laminectomy, or would you like to learn how spine surgery at Emory can get you back to the active life you enjoy? We welcome your questions and feedback in the comments section below.

About S. Tim Yoon, MD:
S. Tim Yoon, MD, PhD, specializes in minimally invasive surgery and cervical spine surgery. He is board certified in orthopedic surgery. Dr. Yoon started practicing at Emory in 2000.

Outpatient Spine Surgery? You Bet!

Dr. Tim YoonMany people have misconceptions about spinal surgery. They think spinal surgery has to be a big operation or that the recovery time after surgery has to be long. The truth is that there’s a common spinal surgery we perform as an outpatient procedure here at Emory, and with it we get great results. It’s called a lumbar microdiscectomy.

A lumbar microdiscectomy may be right for you if:

  • You have leg or foot pain, weakness, or numbness.
  • You’ve tried epidural steroid injections and they just don’t work.
  • An MRI has shown that you have a disc herniation that needs surgery.

What happens during a lumbar microdiscectomy? A lumbar microdiscectomy takes an hour or less of surgical time. In most cases, you can go home the same day you have surgery—usually within a few hours after the procedure. During the procedure, your surgeon removes the small portion of the disc that has herniated (protruded) and is compressing the nerve root to relieve the neural impingement causing your pain or weakness.

Lumbar MicrodiscectomyTo reduce surgery and recovery time, we use minimally invasive techniques, including:

  • anesthesia designed for outpatient surgery
  • x-ray guidance to make the most ideal incision
  • the smallest incision possible
  • a powerful microscope for better visualization through that small incision

After the surgery, you’ll be able to walk and do non-strenuous activities right away.

Our success rate at Emory for a lumbar microdiscectomy is very high, with patients often experiencing complete relief of pre-operative leg pain immediately after surgery.

Have you had a lumbar microdiscectomy, or would you like to learn more about minimally invasive spine surgery at Emory? We welcome your questions and feedback in the comments section below.

S. Tim Yoon, MD, PhD, specializes in minimally invasive surgery and is assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and chief of Orthopedics at the Veterans Administration Medical Center at Atlanta. He is board certified in orthopedic surgery. Dr. Yoon started practicing at Emory in 2000.