Researchers have discovered that a technique commonly used in brain surgery could be useful to determine whether surgery is needed for patients who suffer from lower back problems, and to what extent surgery is required.
The investigators from Australia and Germany say the technique, called the sedimentation sign (SedSign) - which involves measuring pressure in the spinal canal - proved more successful in determining the lower back problems of patients, compared with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and clinical examination alone.
According to Prof. Markus Melloh, of the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research and the University of Western Australia, degeneration of the spine occurs as a person gets older, which can cause the spinal canal to become narrower.
Prof. Melloh says that some people with a narrowing of the spinal canal suffer from a condition called lumbar spinal stenosis. This occurs when the spinal cord and nerves in the lower back become compressed.
Lumbar spinal stenosis is most common in those over the age of 50, and symptoms include pain, numbness, weakness or radiating leg pain while walking or standing for long periods. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, around 8-11% of American adults are affected by the condition.
The researchers say that current treatment for spinal stenosis is decompression surgery. This involves either removal of sections of the vertebrae or damaged discs in the spine, or the joining together of two or more vertebrae in order to strengthen the spine.
However, the investigators note that there has previously been no way to determine exactly how many of the spine segments need to be treated through decompression surgery.
'Promising diagnostic tool' for spinal stenosis
For their study, published in the European Spine Journal, the researchers analyzed the spinal fluid pressure of patients with spinal stenosis, alongside patients who did not have the condition, while they were having surgery.
The researchers monitored the patients' spinal fluid pressure by inserting a catheter with a pressure sensor into the spinal canal.
Prof. Melloh explains the team's findings:
"We found that the pressure at the stenosis level in patients with spinal stenosis was three times higher than at unaffected levels in this patient group and compared to the control group, which makes this technique a very promising diagnostic tool for patients with problems of the lumbar spine."
This SedSign method can even be used prior to surgery, Prof. Melloh adds, by inserting the catheter with the pressure sensor through a needle, then into the spinal canal.
He notes that this technique could help surgeons to determine exactly which spine segments have been affected by spinal stenosis.
"[This could] reduce the amount of time on the operating table, the number of days on sick leave and complications, which benefits both the patients and the taxpayer," he adds.
Medical News Today recently reported on a study detailing the creation of a new prosthetic bladder that could help those with spinal injury regain control of their bladder.