Minimally Invasive Back Surgery Enables Chicago Woman to Move on with Her Life

Cheryl Williams endured increasingly debilitating back pain for three years before finding relief. The Chicago woman first tried conservative treatments: pain medications, physical therapy, and epidural injections, but nothing worked. The pain intensified in her lower back and radiated down her left leg. It was hard for her to sit for long periods of time on the job at a Chicago law firm. She couldn’t engage in her active lifestyle, and it was becoming more difficult to navigate the three flights of stairs in the building where she lives.

“The pain was excruciating, and I couldn’t take it anymore,” said Williams, 60.

She was told by another spine surgeon that she needed a multi-level fusion. She wasn’t able to take the necessary time off of work to properly recover – a months-long rehabilitation process – so she planned to live with the pain until she retired. But the pain kept getting worse, and she couldn’t endure it any longer.

Thomas A. McNally, MD, medical director of the Chicago Spine Center at Weiss Memorial Hospital, presented her with a minimally-invasive option, one with a quicker recovery time – 6 weeks – and which could provide her relief for years to come.

“Ms. Williams had both severe spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis. Despite the complexity of her diagnosis, our team successfully treated her minimally invasively,” Dr. McNally said.

Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal. Pain comes when the spine closes in on the nerves it protects. Spondylolisthesis is the sliding of one vertebra over the other, leading to the squeezing of nerves and instability of the spine. Both often are the result of arthritis, which can be the result of normal wear and tear of living an active life. The conditions primarily impact people over the age of 50.

An estimated 80 percent of Americans will experience back pain at some point during their lifetime, not only from arthritis but also due to injury or a congenital condition. For many people, the pain is debilitating, impacting their work and daily life.

The first step for the team at the Chicago Spine Center at Weiss Memorial Hospital was to identify the cause of Williams’ pain.  Then they worked to maximize nonoperative care. When that failed to provide adequate relief they developed a surgical plan to treat her specific conditions in a way that would allow her to recover as quickly as possible, something important to Williams.

A new minimally invasive technology enabled Dr. McNally to achieve that goal. Following the decompression of the spine in the affected area of Williams’ lower back to relieve pressure on the lumbar nerves, a procedure known as a laminectomy, Dr. McNally inserted the Coflex Interlaminar Stabilization® device to stabilize the spine. The implant is like a spring affixed to the bone and is positioned between adjacent lamina.  “This technology is intended to be a permanent fix for people with spinal stenosis,” Dr. McNally explains. “But because of the added condition of the sliding vertebra in Ms. Williams, we might have to revisit the idea of a spinal fusion in a couple of years. That is a more invasive surgery with a longer recovery time. It all depends on how well the stabilization device works for her spondylolisthesis over time.”

So far, so good. “I don’t have any more back pain,” Williams smiled. She started walking well immediately following the surgery and was absent of the “horrible” left leg pain she had experienced. She was able to return to work just six weeks after surgery. She is now resuming her workout routine at the local gym.

“It was a chance to choose surgery, but life itself is a chance,” Williams says. “For other people living with severe back pain and surgery is an option, I say do it and move on with your life.”