Having a job where you’re constantly on your feet can have its effects. Kersten Klein, a Pittsburgh native and bank employee, knows exactly what that’s like. After years of working a job where standing for more than eight hours a day was routine, she started experiencing severe lower back and leg pain. “I did my best to ignore the pain and keep working,” she said. “I even switched jobs to where I would be sitting more, but that still didn’t help. I knew something was wrong.”
Kersten visited her primary care physician, who referred her to a pain management specialist and physical therapist. But even with injections meant to block pain receptors and an aggressive physical therapy program, the pain progressed and continued to interfere with her work. Her doctor said that if she didn’t seek surgical treatment, the pain would only intensify, and eventually would inhibit her ability to walk.
Kersten’s doctor advised she seek the experts at UPMC for treatment of her pain. After an initial phone consultation, she was brought in for an examination, which revealed a lower disc herniation. Kersten’s pain was caused from a disc (a rubbery cushion between the individual vertebrae that stack up to make the spine) in her lower back that had ruptured, causing the soft “jelly” within the disc to push out and irritate nearby nerves. Doctors also diagnosed her with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine that puts pressure on surrounding nerves, which contributed to her pain. Kersten quickly made the decision to have surgery at UPMC. She was scheduled immediately.
Using the minimally invasive XLIF® procedure, or eXtreme lateral interbody fusion, neurosurgeons accessed Kersten’s spine from the side of her body (instead of from the front or back) and removed the ruptured disc. Surgeons then replaced the disc with height-restoring cages and biological agents. This approach restored the original height of the collapsing bones in the spine and eliminated pressure on the nerves in the spine. The XLIF procedure causes far less damage to muscles and internal organs and reduces complications associated with other procedures that have traditionally been used to treat spine conditions.
Kersten was released from the hospital within one day, and after completing a short rehabilitation program, she was able to return to leading a normal life. “I can’t believe how quickly I got back to feeling like myself again after the surgery,” said Kersten. “It’s changed my whole life.”
She also was able to continue with one of her favorite pastimes: going to Kennywood Amusement Park. “As soon as I was back to normal, I went to Kennywood and rode all the roller coasters, which I couldn’t do before with my pain,” she explained. “It’s great knowing I can do anything I want now. Heck, I want to go white water rafting, and I’m going to go.”
Our patient stories profile a number of patients who have had surgery at UPMC. Although everyone’s care experience is unique, we hope that sharing these stories will help other prospective patients and their families better understand these procedures and their potential benefits.
Kersten's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.