Spinal stenosis is a chronic pain condition that can have a big impact on your life. Pain from this condition can make taking even a single step challenging. If you have tried other treatments options and they’ve been unsuccessful, the Vertiflex procedure for spinal stenosis (also referred to as the Superion® implant) is a ground-breaking new way to ease pain, increase mobility, and help you get your life back. Here’s what you should know.
What is the Vertiflex procedure for spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a chronic degenerative condition that most often effects the lower back. With age, injury, and gravity, the spinal column begins to collapse and narrow. Eventually, this narrowing begins to pinch your nerves in the spinal column, including the sciatic nerve.
The sciatic nerve is the longest, widest nerve in your body. It carries sensation and movement all the way down to the toes. It starts at the lumbar spine (the lower back) on both sides of the body and runs across the buttocks to the outside of the hip and all the way down the leg to the feet.
When spinal stenosis causes pressure on the sciatic nerve, you might experience symptoms that include:
- Sharp pain anywhere along the nerve (e.g. lower back, hip, leg, feet)
- Tightness in the calves
- Weakness in the legs and feet
- Numbness, tingling, and pins-and-needles in the legs and feet
- Poor balance
- Difficulty walking
- Pain that worsens when sitting or standing for long periods
Without treating the underlying cause and relieving pressure on the sciatic nerve, symptoms will only worsen. They can even become permanent.
The Vertiflex procedure for spinal stenosis is a procedure that can help. During it, your doctor places a small spacer in the spine without removing any tissue or bone. This spacer lives up to its namesake, creating space in the spine and relieving pressure on sensitive nerves.
It’s located between the spinous processes—the bumps you can feel on your back. This spacer prevents the vertebrae from collapsing in on each other when you sit or walk. The Vertiflex procedure for spinal stenosis automatically creates the same space in your spine (and relief you feel) as when you bend over to ease the pain in your lower back.
Learn more about this procedure in the following video.
Why is this treatment approach so important?
Severe spinal stenosis can have a devastating effect on your life. When every movement causes pain, the simplest daily tasks become nearly impossible. And when you cannot even rest at night because of the pain, your ability to deal with the challenges of every day decreases.
In case after case, the Vertiflex procedure for spinal stenosis has helped people get their life back. It relieves pain and preserves the structure of the spine. Because the Vertiflex procedure for spinal stenosis does not remove any spinal material, it is considered minimally invasive and has a shorter recovery time than more invasive procedures, too.
This treatment is also reversible. If the spacer is no longer needed, it can be easily removed, leaving the spine, its discs, and the muscles surrounding it intact.
Vertiflex procedure benefits and research
The research supporting the Superion® implant for spinal stenosis is growing. A two-year study of the Vertiflex procedure for spinal stenosis found that pain scores improved for 75% of patients. These results are similar to the previous gold standard of care for spinal stenosis: the laminectomy.
Another five-year study found that 90% of patients were satisfied with their pain relief after their Vertiflex procedure for spinal stenosis.
And in even better news, another study in 2018 found that 85% of patients who received a Superion® implant for spinal stenosis reduced their opioid intake (or stopped taking opioids altogether).
Another benefit is not the focus of study but has been confirmed by patients and doctors. Because there is no need to remove bone or compromise muscle, recovery time is much quicker. There is no need for hospitalization, and patients can leave the surgical center within hours of the procedure (instead of suffering through a multi-day hospitalization).
With full approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration after rigorous testing, the Vertiflex procedure for spinal stenosis is a safe and effective treatment option.
Am I a good candidate for the Vertiflex procedure?
If you have lumbar spinal stenosis that has not responded to more conservative treatments, you may be a good candidate for Superion® for spinal stenosis. Other people who might benefit from this procedure include:
- Patients who are not healthy enough for major surgery, or want to avoid surgery altogether
- People looking for a shorter recovery time
- Those who want to keep the mobility in their spine
- People who want a reversible procedure
If your severe spinal stenosis is not improving, and laminectomy or spinal fusion has been suggested, you might be a good candidate for the Vertiflex procedure instead.
Hear from our own Dr. Paul Lynch about the benefits of this approach.
Potential Vertiflex complications and risks
If you are getting good results from conservative treatment of your spinal stenosis (e.g. exercise and complementary therapy), you may not need this procedure. Likewise, if your spinal stenosis is mild, you may not require any kind of intervention.
This procedure is also not recommended for children — your spine must be mature and complete. Other instances where the Vertiflex procedure may not be indicated include:
- When there is a diagnosis of cauda equina
- If a patient has severe scoliosis, spondylolisthesis, or degenerative spondylolisthesis
- In the presence of morbid obesity
- In vertebrae with osteoporosis
- With an active systemic infection
- In those with an allergy to titanium or titanium alloy
- In a spine that is unstable and could cause the implant to be unstable
Vertiflex complications are rare, and typically do not occur as a result of the implant itself but are possible with any procedure that involves a surgical incision. These complications can include:
- Damage to nerve roots
- Spinous process fracture
- Allergy to the implant material
- Complications that arise from the procedure (e.g. infection)
Talk to your doctor for a complete understanding of the potential benefits, risks, and complications of the Vertiflex procedure for spinal stenosis.
What to expect during the procedure
As always, working with your doctor is the key to a successful procedure. They can answer all of your questions and provide you with a better picture of the procedure (and recovery).
Here are some basics as to what to expect before, during, and after your procedure.
To get ready for your procedure, you will generally stop taking any blood-thinning medications. Ask your doctor if you should also stop taking other over-the-counter medications, prescriptions, or supplements.
The Vertiflex procedure for spinal stenosis is an outpatient procedure that does not often require general anesthesia. If you know you would like to be completely “out” for any type of procedure, talk to your doctor about what that means for you. You might have to stop eating and drinking the night before.
The procedure itself
The Vertiflex procedure itself takes less than 30 minutes. You’ll lay face down on the examination table. The procedure area is cleaned and sterilized, and a topical analgesic is applied. Once the skin is numb, a local anesthetic is injected to numb the entire area.
Your doctor then makes a small incision in the area where the Vertiflex® interspinous spacer will be placed. They may use X-ray (fluoroscopic) guidance for this. In some cases, more than one spacer will be inserted, but the incision is still very small. The implant’s small arms project out and hold it firmly between the vertebrae.
After the implant is placed, the surgical incision is closed, and you’re done! After a brief stay in recovery, you will then be free to leave.
The vast majority of patients report a pain-free procedure, even with a simple local anesthetic. If you are concerned about pain, talk to your doctor about options. This might include a mild sedative taken before the procedure, twilight anesthesia, or even general anesthesia.
The Vertiflex recovery time is swift and relatively painless, especially when compared to other surgical treatments for spinal stenosis. Take it easy on the day of your surgery and let your pain levels be your guide after that (with exceptions — see below!).
Have someone drive you home. You can immediately resume your normal diet. Ask your doctor about resuming your regular medications.
It’s normal to have soreness at the surgical site after the procedure. This can be treated with over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and should feel better in a day or two.
Keep the stitches or staples closing the surgical site clean and dry. This may mean sponge baths until your follow-up appointment. Do not take baths or showers or go swimming while the staples or stitches are still in place.
If the surgical area becomes hot, red, painful, or begins to ooze, talk to your doctor. This can be a sign of infection, as can fever or a feeling of being unwell.
The most crucial instruction after your Superion® procedure for spinal stenosis is to avoid vigorous activity for six weeks. This means no bending, twisting, or lifting anything over ten pounds. Sports that include any of these motions are to be avoided, as is sexual activity. Many people feel so much relief after their procedure that they find it hard to take it easy. Resist the urge for vigorous exercise and simply enjoy being symptom-free.
If you are craving some activity, gentle walks are okay. Talk to your doctor about other forms of exercise that may be allowed. There is no need to remain in bed for the recovery period, and a little movement can help boost your mood and help you heal.
Other spinal stenosis treatments
There are other treatment options for spinal stenosis, including complementary therapies that can complement interventional procedures.
Acupuncture and biofeedback are two common complementary therapies for spinal stenosis.
Chinese medical doctors believe that acupuncture works to open blocked channels in the body. These blocked channels can cause pain and disease. In modern Western medicine, doctors use acupuncture to stimulate the brain’s healing capacity in the area being treated.
Biofeedback is another complementary therapy that is helpful in dealing with the mental aspects of pain. It helps people to recognize physical symptoms of pain and trains them to slow their response. This does not directly treat the cause of pain, but it helps patients cope.
No side effects are associated with either of these therapies, which makes them ideal when paired with other treatments.
Spinal cord stimulation
If you have severe pain, spinal cord stimulation does not treat the mechanical structure of spinal stenosis but can help relieve your pain. A mild electrical current blocks pain signals to the brain and can provide profound relief.
Adhesiolysis removes built-up scar tissue that further narrows the spinal column and increases pain.
A laminectomy or foraminotomy is another treatment option for spinal stenosis. These surgeries are more invasive, but they can provide profound relief when other treatments have not been effective.
Integrated pain management at Arizona Pain
Spinal stenosis can have a debilitating effect on your life, but you don’t need to live with pain. At Arizona Pain, we believe in integrated and comprehensive pain management. If you are suffering from spinal stenosis that has not responded to treatment, schedule an appointment with our doctors!
The Vertiflex procedure for spinal stenosis is just one treatment option — we’ll work together to design a comprehensive treatment plan that can help you get your life back.