Elmhurst Hospital’s new coflex procedure an option for some back pain patients

December 02, 2015
Gerhard Bender

In 2012, 76-year-old Gerhard Bender picked up an item from his garage floor and felt a nasty twinge in his lower back. What followed was a three-year search for relief from increasingly severe bouts of pain. He tried chiropractic treatments and a series of epidural steroid injections, but any break from the misery was temporary.

By fall of 2013 Bender, a normally independent resident of unincorporated Leyden Township, was limping and using a cane. But now the pain extended down his leg when he walked.

"My wife Irene had to deal with a lot during that time,” recalls Bender. “I wasn't too pleasant to be around."

Bender was referred to Dr. Ryon Hennessy, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Elmhurst Hospital and with Orthopedic Specialists. Dr. Hennessy ordered an MRI, which showed severe facet joint arthritis in Bender’s lower back.

Facet joints link each pair of vertebrae and allow the back to bend and twist. The degeneration in Bender's lower spine led to overgrowth of bone and soft tissue causing spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that surrounds the spinal cord. The stenosis caused the pain in his lower back, buttocks and legs, especially after physical activity, even just walking, which was tough for Bender, who had been used to cutting his lawn, cleaning the gutters and painting the house.

Since more conservative treatments weren't working for Bender, Dr. Hennessy recommended a new spine surgery that uses coflex Interlaminar Technology.

"Traditionally there've been two types of surgery for spinal stenosis,” says Dr. Hennessy. “There's decompression where we remove excess bone and other tissue to relieve the pressure. But, in about a third of cases this renders the spine unstable. Then a second surgery is needed – spinal fusion. Sometimes decompression and fusion are combined in one surgery."

Fusion involves joining two or more vertebrae into one solid bone, supported by bone grafts and often, metal plates and screws. This procedure eliminates movement in the involved vertebrae.

Some patients can benefit from a coflex implant, a newer, alternative surgery. This titanium device allows patients to preserve some motion forward and backward at the affected level, as well as normal motion in adjacent levels of the spine.

Dr. Hennessy performed Bender's coflex surgery at Elmhurst Hospital in July 2015. He first did a decompression surgery and then used the same small, midline incision to insert the implant in the back of Bender's spine. The device stabilized the affected area, and now helps keep the spinal canal from re-narrowing.

"The implant is much less invasive than a fusion and added only minimal time to the surgery,” says Dr. Hennessy. “And there's no need for screws or any destruction of disks.

"When Gerhard came in to the office after the surgery, there was a big difference in how he moved and in his outlook. He walked out of here 10 to 15 years younger than when he first walked in."

Says Bender, "Soon after the surgery I felt no pain. Then for a couple of months after the surgery I had to be careful about lifting, bending and twisting, but now I'm out there mowing grass. I'm very satisfied with the doctors and the staff at the hospital. I feel fantastic."

For more information about Edward-Elmhurst Health’s treatment of spine conditions, visit www.EEHealth.org/services/orthopedics/specialties/spine.