Minimally invasive surgery helps rancher return to activity with a straight spine and without pain

Paul is a hard worker and enjoys staying active. Some of his favorite activities include working cattle on his ranch and riding horses. Paul has struggled with back pain due to scoliosis for many years. Treatment for his spine condition, known as rotoscoliosis, included a traditional spine fusion surgery performed in 1993. The surgery provided Paul about ten years of relief. Unfortunately, his back pain symptoms returned.

In addition to his back pain, Paul also felt hip and leg pain on his right side. It wasn’t until these symptoms became persistent that Paul returned to his spine surgeon to learn of other treatment options for his condition. Rotoscoliosis can be described as curvature of the spine in both a lateral and rotational direction. The surgeon explained to Paul that there was not much that would relieve his symptoms permanently.

So Paul continued to manage his symptoms by limiting activity and taking anti-inflammatories to help with the pain. He was resigned to living with his symptoms for many years. Though he still looked forward to a day when he could once again work on his ranch and ride horses — without pain.

Early in 2013, Paul visited another surgeon but again was not given much hope for permanent relief of his symptoms. The surgeon suggested physical therapy. The goal of spine physical therapy is to change the physiology of the back by using exercise to make it stronger, more flexible and resistant to injury. Paul followed the doctors advice and tried physical therapy.

By now, Paul’s pain symptoms were greatly interfering with his quality of life. The pain felt in his hips and legs was severe. Paul also noticed his spine becoming more unstable. His left shoulder was considerably shorter than his right. Because of his symptoms, even the most basic activities such as standing, walking and driving were extremely difficult. This was impacting Paul’s ability to work on his ranch and he could no longer ride horses.

Paul’s physical therapist told him about Dr. James Lynch, a fellowship-trained neurosurgeon at Swift Spine Institute. Dr. Lynch is one of a handful of spine surgeons with three fellowships in the specialty of spine surgery. Fellowship-training is the highest level of medical training available in the US. Paul was determined to find relief from his symptoms so he made an appointment with Dr. Lynch.

Extreme Lateral Interbody Fusion (XLIF®) Image ©NuVasive, used with permission

At the appointment, Dr. Lynch reviewed Paul’s medical history and diagnostics. He also talked with Paul about a minimally invasive spine surgery known as Extreme Lateral Interbody Fusion (XLIF®) that could treat his spine condition. Dr. Lynch is certified as a practitioner of this minimally invasive surgical procedure by the Society of Lateral Access Surgery. Dr. Lynch explained that the surgery involves one small incision on the patient’s side. A special probe and surgical instrumentation allows the surgeon to gain access to the spine and remove the damaged disc(s) while avoiding interruption of the nerves. Once the disc is removed an implant filled with bone graft is placed in the empty disc space. This realigns the spine and relieves pressure from pinched nerve roots. Advantages of the XLIF procedure over traditional spine surgery include less post-operative pain and quicker return to activity. “Dr. Lynch gave me hope,” Paul says. He was happy to learn of an treatment option that could mean lasting relief of his symptoms. Dr. Lynch performed the 2 level XLIF procedure and the surgery was a success.

Following surgery, Paul’s spine was straighter and he felt immediate relief from his back, hip and leg pain. Five weeks following his surgery, Paul is walking for exercise without pain. “I’m relieved to be pain free and wish I had known this was an option years ago,” Paul remarks. He will be starting spine specialized physical therapy at Swift Spine Institute soon to help strengthen his spine and make it more resistant to future injury. Paul looks forward riding horses again soon.

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