New back surgery aims to prevent future problems

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A new type of back surgery aims to help people move better and prevent problems in the future.

It's a new type of spinal fusion that is still in clinical trials right now, but the goal is to improve the standard surgery so that it has better effects in the long-term.

One local woman says it's been life-changing.

For years, 69-year-old Elizabeth Pappas dealt with severe back and leg pain, likely brought on by decades of playing and coaching field hockey.

"I felt like I was constantly dragging somebody behind me that weighed almost as much as me on my left side," she said.

Dr. William Welch, a neurosurgeon at Penn Medicine says she was eligible for a new trial, testing this device known as the TOPS system used for a spinal fusion.

It's for patients with degenerative spondylolisthesis.

"The vertebral bodies, instead of being perfectly aligned are shifted, one has shifted forward on the other, nerves get compressed," said Dr. Welch.

Traditional fusions work by locking vertebrae together and freeing the nerves.

Dr. Welch says it relieves pain but it also limits movement.

"So the body tries to compensate for that lack of movement, so the patients experience more movement above and below the fused segment," he said.

He says that in the long term can lead to breakdown in those areas of the spine and possibly more surgery, but the new TOPS device allows more movement, keeping pressure off areas above and below.

"So if this helps reduce that even by half, you have significantly reduced the likelihood of needing further surgery," said Dr. Welch.

Pappas had the procedure with the new device 6 months ago.

"I knew as soon as I walked for the first time, I myself was like wow, I'm walking a lot better," she said.

She has less pain and better balance. She was even able to go on a sightseeing trip to Ireland.

If this proves to be better in the long-term, then it could become the standard operation. So far, results are promising.

The TOPS trial is being conducted at 26 different medical centers.

For more information, and all the locations CLICK HERE.

In addition to Penn Medicine, the Orthopedic Institute of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh, and Sibley Hospital/Johns Hopkins Network in Washington, D.C. are other regional centers taking part.

For more information on the trial at Penn Medicine: CLICK HERE.

The maker of TOPS, Premia Spine, also has information. CLICK HERE.

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