Finding relief from back pain
“It was Easter morning and I went out to feed the horses quick before we headed to church. I picked up a hay bale and twisted to put it in the feeder. My back went out and I fell to my knees. We didn’t make it to church that day,” remembers Gary Horstman of rural Holmen, Wis.
Gary’s story of chronic back pain begins like so many others. One quick move and back pain from a troublesome disc became a part of his daily life for more than seven years. Fortunately, for people like Gary who suffer from disc problems, help is available at Gundersen Health System. Neurosurgeons at Gundersen are performing a disc replacement surgery, called disc arthroplasty, that’s helping people regain their quality of life.
“Discs in the back cushion the bones of the spine. When these discs degenerate from age, genetics, normal wear-and-tear or an injury, it can cause great pain,” says Gundersen neurosurgeon Drew Sullivan, MD. “For some patients with disc problems, their back pain improves with non-surgical treatment. For many others, surgery may be the only option to relieve the pain.”
For years, Gary tried non-surgical options for dealing with his pain. “I tried everything—seeing a chiropractor, having injections into the two discs that were damaged, even hanging upside down like a bat on an inversion table. Everything helped for a little while, but the pain always came back. By the time I had surgery, I was taking strong pain killers four times a day, every day,” he recalls.
The pain got so bad, Gary had to give up activities he enjoyed, like riding his motorcycle. “I just couldn’t do it anymore. Even riding in a car for 40 miles was painful,” he says.
The dock supervisor at the La Crosse Post Office could no longer help his employees lift or move bags or containers of mail. Walking was becoming challenging. “The pain was causing numbness in my leg, so I’d stumble and fall at times,” Gary remembers.
After undergoing a number of tests at Gundersen, Gary found out he was a candidate for disc arthroplasty. During the surgery in May 2010, surgeons removed the damaged discs in Gary’s spine and, instead of fusing the bones together, they replaced those discs with a flexible implant. “For years, the only surgical option we had available for patients like Gary was spinal fusion, which eliminates the motion of the spine and takes away function,” Dr. Sullivan explains. “With disc arthroplasty, their movement is restored to virtually normal.”
Most importantly, it eases the patient’s pain. “I have zero pain in my back now. It feels great,” Gary says.
“I can’t say enough about Dr. Sullivan, his team and all the staff at Gundersen” says Gary, who also had foot surgery performed by Gundersen podiatrist David Caldarella, DPM, in November 2010 to repair a painful old injury. “I’m doing everything I used to do at work. I’m riding my motorcycle again. I’m back to new.”
It’s important to note that disc arthroplasty is not for everyone with neck or back pain. Each patient is evaluated carefully by the Gundersen Neurosciences team.