A Spine Surgery Success Story: Finding Relief from Back Pain

Date: May 16, 2022
Pat Principe struggled with debilitating back pain for over a year – pain that radiated down her legs and kept her from enjoying her favorite activities.

“I volunteer at a children’s hospital and through my church,” the 81-year-old shares. “I haven’t been able to do that in quite some time, and I miss it.”

Pat was already familiar with Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center. She had seen Randy Katz, DO, for knee pain. So, she made an appointment with him as her back pain worsened. Together, they planned to try a non-surgical approach to help relieve her pain with epidural steroid injections.

“Those injections worked for a few weeks, but the horrible pain would return,” says Pat. “I initially did not want to have back surgery because of the stigma around it. But I realized it was probably the best way to feel better.”
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Moving Forward with Spine Surgery

Those findings on her imaging tests and the unsuccessful epidurals made Pat a good candidate for surgery.

“We offer a full spectrum of diagnosis and treatment for spine issues,” explains Dr. Boden. “Fortunately, about 90% of the patients we see have success with non-operative treatment. The patients that are well-suited for surgery tend to respond well.”

Patients who are good candidates for spine surgery typically have a pinched nerve that causes radiating pain down the arms or legs. A herniated disc or spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) are the most common causes of a pinched nerve.

Pat met this criterion. The age-related changes to her spine also were creating instability. This allowed the vertebra to slip forward, which narrowed her spinal canal, a condition called spinal stenosis. Both these conditions – the forward slippage and spinal stenosis – put pressure on the nerves in her back, causing significant radiating leg pain.

“I was hesitant to have the surgery before meeting with Dr. Boden,” Pat admits. “After trying the epidurals, I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t go on. The pain was terrible.”

Dr. Boden’s surgical plan for Pat included two procedures – a laminectomy and spinal fusion. The laminectomy created room in her spinal canal by removing the back of her affected vertebrae and trimming bone spurs that had formed over the years. This helped relieve the nerve pinching.

The second part of the surgery, a spinal fusion, created stability in her spine by fusing two vertebrae together. This prevents the spine from slipping forward again. It can take six to nine months for those bones to fully heal and grow together as one.

“I feel so blessed. Every morning I get up and I feel so blessed that I can walk without pain,” Pat shares.

Dedicated to Recovery

Pat’s surgery went well. In fact, at her six-week post-operative appointment with Dr. Boden, she reported she wasn’t experiencing any pain at all.
“They tell you to avoid bending, lifting and twisting. Well, do you know how hard that is? You don’t even realize how much you do that during the day until you can’t anymore. So, I got a grabber, and I’m careful not to do too much. If I drop something and I don’t have my grabber, I’ll leave it on the floor until I can pick it up with my grabber.

“I also have to wear a back brace until July. It’s uncomfortable, but I’m willing to do whatever Dr. Boden tells me. I am just so grateful not to have that terrible pain. I am so thankful for Dr. Boden and all the staff at Emory,” she finishes.

“Understandably, most patients are very fearful of any spine surgery. However, the right operation in the right patient can give someone their life back,” explains Dr. Boden. “At Emory, we really focus on only suggesting surgery in patients with a high likelihood of success and avoiding surgery in situations it’s less likely to be helpful,” he added.

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