Healthline: iFuse implants easing lower back pain

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Behind flu-like symptoms, complaints of lower back pain are the second most common reason people see a doctor. A minimally invasive procedure called iFuse is helping to ease that pain for some patients.

Judy Rogers is all too familiar with the inside of a doctor's office. Working as a florist she had no time for chronic pain in her lower back. It quickly became debilitating.

"I couldn't stand very long, laying down hurt, sitting down hurt, I couldn't go up stairs," she recalled.

Other doctors told Rogers she would have to learn to live with the pain, but she finally got the diagnosis she was looking for at The Spine Center at Bone & Joint Clinic of Baton Rouge. A series of specific physical tests showed that her sacroiliac joint was not working properly. It's called the "SI joint" for short, connecting the bottom of the spine to the pelvis.

"Patients typically present with back pain that is radiating into the buttock, or sometimes just pain over the buttock," orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kevin McCarthy said. "That's a common symptom that patients have from everyday back pain, so (this diagnosis) is easily missed."

McCarthy recommended Rogers undergo the iFuse surgery. Three titanium implants are inserted across the SI joint through a three-inch incision in the hip. Bone eventually grows around the devices, and their triangular shape helps stabilize the joint. Patients are usually out of the hospital the very next day and spend six weeks on crutches.

"Before iFuse there was really only a couple options," McCarthy explained. "One is medication, the other is certain physical therapies, strengthening exercises, maneuvers, and then as an extreme, a large open fusion with plates and screws, which patients really did poorly from."

Rogers noticed a difference from the moment she opened her eyes.

"Immediately upon getting my senses back from surgery, I knew I was better. I knew I still had to recover, but it made a major difference right from the get-go," she said.

She's still pain free a year and a half later, and glad she never gave up on a diagnosis.

iFuse only works for patients with a problematic SI joint. McCarthy said that diagnosis accounts for about 25% of lower back pain cases.

CLICK HERE to learn more about iFuse at Bone & Joint Clinic of Baton Rouge. The procedure is also offered at Baton Rouge Orthopaedic Clinic.

Most insurance companies now cover the surgery, and McCarthy hopes forthcoming studies will allow the remaining companies to follow suit.

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