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Tonya Papanikolas ReportingBack pain is the number two reason people go to the doctor's. Most back pain stems from muscle injury and doesn't require surgery. But for some who have disk problems, a new FDA-monitored study is offering hope.
You may not think bending over is a huge feat, but for Kay Ranger-Graham it's one of many things she hasn't been able to do for a long time.
Kay Ranger-Graham: “I was pretty much stuck on a couch. I couldn't sit on a regular chair, I couldn't do my office work any more cause I couldn't sit in my work chair."
Kay has a lower back problem called degenerative disk disease - or DDD. The condition gave her shooting pain, making her limp and hunch over.
Dr. Darrel Brodke: “It is, in lay terms, arthritis -- wear and tear over a long period of time."
Dr. Darrel Brodke is an orthopedic surgeon at the University Medical Center. In December he implanted an artificial disk in Kay's spine. She was the first patient in Utah to receive the surgery.
Kay Ranger-Graham: “It's changed my whole life. I've gone from being on the couch to hiking. I went from severe pain to none, to absolutely none."
A normal spine has rubber-looking disks in between the vertebrae. In traditional fusion treatment for DDD the doctor removes the disk and fuses the bone together, using screws and rods. But the patient often can't move well.
Dr. Darrel Brodke: “You in essence stop all motion between two vertebral segments."
But doctors say that's not the case with the artificial disk, a metal implant that sits between the vertebrae. It resembles a ball and socket and it allows for more motion. Kay says it's a miracle.
Kay Ranger-Graham: “I swear by it. It's been a complete life-changing experience."
The University Medical Center is one of 25 sites across the country participating in a clinical trial for artificial spinal disks. Right now, two-thirds of patients enrolled in the study will receive an artificial disk. The other third will receive the more traditional surgery, fusion where the bones meet.