|By Frank Lee, St. Cloud Times, Minn.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
A powerful water jet cutting device can be used for minimally invasive treatment of herniated discs, and Dr.
"It's basically a high-velocity water jet eroding system,"
"Just the energy of the jet would be doing the cutting," said Staid, an engineer. "In our case, the water is going about 600 miles an hour and has the ability to cut quite effectively."
The advantages of the 20-minute outpatient procedure are: No hospitalization, quicker recovery times, less pain, no surgical trauma to the back muscles and no general anesthesia.
"There is no muscle damage, no bone removal, no nerve root manipulation ... and the size of the wound is approximately 4 mm," Kowalkowski said.
Kowalkowski began offering
"The procedure and the study I have completed on it was published in a pain journal this summer," he said of the official publication of the
Water-based tools previously have been used outside the medical field. "They were used in the aerospace industry and automotive industry for cutting and preparing things ... because the blade never gets dull or gunky," Staid said.
When the outer wall of a spinal disc becomes damaged or weakened through age or injury, the inner part of the disc may bulge out in what is known as "disc herniation" or a "slipped" disc.
The water jet comes out of a tiny tube at the end of a spark plug-like tip and is collected -- along with the blasted tissue -- in another tube built into the same probe, completing a circuit of sorts.
"When the physician's foot is not on the control pedal, it's nothing but a benign metal probe," said Staid, who came up with the concept with
Staid is the chief technology officer and vice president of application development at
Kowalkowski said, "I really became intrigued with the technology, to a point that we've performed probably over 50 procedures, and many of those patients have been offered surgery as an option for their disc herniation."
Only spinal discs that have not ruptured may be treated with the water-based procedure, according to Kowalkowski.
"There is a week's recovery time versus, many times, eight weeks or more with surgery," Kowalkowski said.
He also said that in the worst-case scenario that
The physician uses a fluoroscope, which is a machine that projects live X-ray images onto a monitor, to place the water-dispensing probe within the disc.
"The patient is not even fully anesthetized. They're awake and alert on the table," Staid said.
The system has been used in more than 45,000 spinal, arthroscopic and wound debridement procedures, according to
"We've been able to document a physiological reduction in the size of the disc immediately after the procedure," Kowalkowski said.
Most people in
"At the end of the day, it was hard to even walk because I just ached so bad, and I couldn't do the activities that I used to be able to do," said
The 36-year-old registered nurse from
"I work in patient care, and I was lifting a patient and that kind of ruined my back," Rasmussen said. Her injury occurred when she was working with a 350-pound patient.
She said she has experienced lower back pain, swelling, and achy hips and legs because of the injury and had a lot of frustration before she tried
"I figured it was worth it to try this procedure because when you are in that much pain, you're willing to do anything, and the minute the procedure was done, that pain was gone immediately," she said.
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