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Minimally invasive laser procedures eliminate back pain.

Larry Solie grew up on a ranch, so he’s no stranger to responsibility and hard work outdoors. Every day, he toiled in the garden and cared for the horses. It was a natural transition when he became executive director of a wilderness program for troubled teens.

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Larry felt immediate relief from his laser spine surgery.

“The program operated over a fifty thousand acre spread in Central Oregon,” Larry describes. “We worked with three hundred teens a year. They learned tracking and navigation skills, how to build fires without matches and many Native American-style ways of living in the wilderness.

“Before I took over that program, I was headmaster at a school for troubled boys. During that time, I met the founder of the wilderness program – an ex-ranger who wanted help with his business. We formed an alliance to cross-train our kids, and I eventually bought his program.”

Larry expanded the program, which was featured on a television series in 2003. The show garnered national recognition for Larry’s program as well as the attention of larger organizations doing residential and
wilderness-based programming. Larry left his program in the capable hands of one of those organizations and retired in 2006.

Unfortunately, all those years of working on the ranch and hiking and sleeping on the hard ground in the wilderness took a toll on Larry’s back. That distress was compounded by damage done to his back during his military career.

“I served during the Six-Day War, and we got banged around on my ship quite a bit,” Larry recalls. “When my ship was torpedoed, I suffered an injury to my spine that didn’t show up until later. Couple that with the walking and lifting I did, and the strain on my back really got bad.

“The first symptom I noticed was weakness in my right leg, followed by numbness and cramping in both legs. I also experienced pretty intense pain in my back and down my left leg. There were stabbing, sharp pains, then there were dull pains. It ran the gamut, but the pain was a ten on a scale of one to ten. If I lifted something, I could guarantee I’d be in pain for days. I’m a very active person. It was difficult for me to just sit still.

“My wife and I like to go boating and travel, and I draw and paint outside, but with a bad back, I didn’t do much but sit on ice and take pain pills. It got to the point that my wife said, Look, I want to travel, but if you want to sit here in pain, I’ll get you a subscription to the newspaper. That prompted me to seek treatment.”

Larry already had an idea where he’d go for help with his bad back. His daughter worked for Physician Partners of America, and Larry knew their surgeons performed minimally invasive laser spine surgery. Larry made an appointment and met with Dr. James St. Louis, director of the practice’s Minimally Invasive Spine Group.

Attachment Point

The affected nerve is identified after listening to the patient’s symptoms and using MRI to pinpoint the specific nerve.

“Upon evaluating Larry, I discovered that a damaged disc in his lower spine was pinching the nerves exiting through the openings in the spinal column, which are called foramen,” Dr. St. Louis explains. “Pressure on the nerves caused the pain in his back and numbness down his legs.

“To address Larry’s condition, I chose to perform two minimally invasive laser spine procedures, a laminotomy and a foraminotomy. The goal of performing those procedures was to ease the pressure on Larry’s nerves and relieve his painful symptoms.”

A lamina is a part of the vertebral arch. A pair of laminae join with the bony projections that jut from the middle of the vertebrae, called spinous processes, to provide a point of attachment for the spine’s muscles and ligaments. A laminotomy is the removal of some of the lamina to relieve pressure from the bone pressing on the spinal cord.

“I felt immediate relief. And my recovery was very quick. I walked out of surgery with no pain in my back or down my legs.” – Larry

“Minimally invasive laser laminotomy is performed through a half-inch incision in the back,” Dr. St. Louis explains. “The incision is carefully placed with the help of a special x-ray called C-arm fluoroscopy. Laminotomy is carried out using a scope with a camera, and the surgeon operates while visualizing images from the camera on a computer screen.

“Once the incision is made, we insert a series of tubes to dilate the muscles that sit on top of the bone and create an opening in the lamina using a laser, small drill and a kerasin. We use rongeurs to remove the pieces of bone that were in the lamina.”

To relieve pressure on spinal nerves, Dr. St. Louis uses the kerasin to remove some of the bone surrounding the foramen where the nerves exit the spinal cord. This is a foraminotomy. Because laminotomy and foraminotomy are performed minimally invasively, recovery is short and complications are rare.

“I typically instruct patients to walk for an hour the day after surgery in three twenty-minute intervals,” Dr. St. Louis informs. “Total recovery time depends on the patient’s degree of activity. If they’re returning to a desk job, they can go back within a week. If they do manual labor, they must wait anywhere from two weeks to a month.”

Dr. St. Louis makes a point of noting that Physician Partners of America accepts Medicare, so patients with Medicare don’t have to pay large out-of-pocket sums for their laser surgery. This is important because many of the conditions that require procedures such as laminotomy and foraminotomy are common in older adults.

“As people age, they often develop bone spurs that can pinch the spinal cord or spinal nerves and cause pain,” the doctor observes. “In addition, every nerve travels through a tunnel, and over time, that tunnel shrinks and puts pressure on the nerve. Laminotomy and foraminotomy remove the bone spurs and open up the tunnels, freeing the nerves and relieving pain.”

Photo by Jordan Pysz.

Larry Solie

“Immediate Relief”

Dr. St. Louis thoroughly explained what was causing Larry’s back and leg pain, and detailed how laser laminotomy and foraminotomy would repair the problem. Larry agreed to undergo the procedures and was amazed by how quickly he noticed a difference in his condition.

“I felt immediate relief,” Larry enthuses. “And my recovery was very quick. I walked out of surgery with no pain in my back or down my legs. At first, I attributed most of the relief to the anesthesia, but the pain hasn’t returned. There’s zero pain now, when before it was a ten.”

Larry no longer suffers with discomfort in his back or legs, so he’s able to perform his favorite activities. Those include working in the garden, shades of his days on the ranch.

“My wife doesn’t call me a gardener,” Larry relates. “She calls me a landscaper because what I do requires a lot of physical activity. We walk daily as well. And I recently picked up an airbrush. I’ve been an artist all my life, so I’m moving into a different level of art.

“I’m looking forward to getting back to boating and traveling. I had to cancel a couple of trips due to my back pain, but that’s all behind me now. I highly recommend Dr. St. Louis and his team at Physician Partners of America. They provided me with pain relief and in turn gave me my life back.”

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    • Physician Partners of America

      Physician Partners of America is proud to be a pioneer in the field of laser spine surgery procedures. Minimally invasive spine procedures can often be performed using incisions smaller than 1 inch, compared to incisions of 5 inches or more u... Read More

    • James St. Louis, DO

      James St. Louis, DO, earned his Bachelor of Science and Masters of Science degrees from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. He received his osteopathic medicine degree from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, and comple... Read More

    • Keith Girton, MD

      Keith Girton, MD, is board certified by the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and earned his medical degree from The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Dr. Girton completed a residency in family... Read More