'SMART trial' could help ease low back pain

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by Jim Bergamo / KVUE

khou.com

Posted on July 29, 2013 at 12:23 PM

AUSTIN -- You sit down, you stand up, you twist, you turn. Nothing seems to ease low back pain. It affects approximately 100 million adults according to the Institute of Medicine. The Seton Spine & Scoliosis Center is testing something that could provide significant relief without surgery.

Marine Lindsey Willis III served from 1997 - 2005. He returned to Austin unscathed -- except for a fall he took during his deployment over a decade ago. It resulted in minor back pain until one morning in 2009.

"I was getting ready for work and I coughed," said Willis. "It basically threw my back out. I was bed ridden for 3-4 days."

Ever since then his seemingly minor back injury has been a major pain.

"That pain hits, and it hits like a sledgehammer sometimes," said Willis. "It's quick and you're immobilized for a couple of seconds."

His story is a familiar one. The Institute of Medicine says low back pain is the most prevalent and expensive non-lethal medical condition in the country. That's why the Seton Spine & Scoliosis Center is taking part in a nationwide study. It's called the SMART Trial and it's designed to provide relief to Willis and the millions of other low back pain sufferers.

"There's a subset of people with back pain that have pain that comes from the front of their spine," said Enrique Pena, M.D. of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at the Seton Spine & Scoliosis Center. "It comes not only from the disc in your spine and also the bone in your spine, so we haven't been able to treat that non operatively thus far."

Until now. Here's how it works. Using an MRI, doctors can locate the problem disk. Then they place a needle into the spine where the nerves go into the disk. Using radio frequency ablation, doctors burn the nerve supply causing the pain. Doctors hope this newer procedure provides a more minimally-invasive approach to treating back pain. They also hope it eliminates the need for pain medications and invasive surgery.

"I'm looking for something that will fix it or take away the pain," said Willis.

Not surprisingly, Willis is intrigued by the SMART Trial.

"Basically it's a 3-4 step procedure and done, and you're back on your feet the same day" he said. "Not many procedures will put you right back out on your feet."

For more information on the study, click here.

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