By: 16 December 2013

New technique measures pressure in the spinal cord


Researchers in Perth, Australia, have discovered a new way to find out if people with common lower back problems need surgery, by measuring pressure in their spinal canal.

A similar technique is used in brain surgery to guide surgeons, but now doctors from Germany and Australia believe it could help diagnose many people who suffer from lower back problems.

Even experienced surgeons still struggle to decide whether surgery will help people with suspected lumbar spinal stenosis, a condition that is caused by the narrowing of the spinal canal and leads to pain and numbness in the lower back and legs.

As reported in The West Australia publication, researchers found that measuring pressure in the spinal canal improved the accuracy of the diagnosis compared with using conventional tools such as an MRI scan and physical examination.
It helped identify which patients needed surgery and pinpointed which segments of the spine were affected.

Associate Professor Markus Melloh, from the Perth-based institute and the University of WA, said that as people got older, degeneration caused narrowing of the spinal canal, but only some developed spinal stenosis.

The routine treatment of stenosis was decompression surgery but until now, even senior surgeons had no way of finding out how many segments of the spine needed to be treated.

In the study, the researchers inserted a catheter with a pressure sensor into the spinal canal of patients having surgery and found the spinal fluid pressure in patients with stenonis was three times higher at the affected parts of their spine.

Professor Melloh said they had applied for a patent for the promising diagnostic tool. “This might help to find out exactly which segments of the spine have been affected – reducing the amount of time on the operating table, the number of days on sick leave and complications, which benefits the patients and taxpayers,” he said.