Beating The Back Pain Blues

Sherry Lackey has waited three years for a revolutionary new procedure performed by Dr. Scott Blumenthal of the Texas Back Institute.

It is a procedure that could ease the pain for millions of people with bad backs. And it doesn't require major surgery or a long hospital stay, CBS News Correspondent John Roberts reports.

"The procedure is used to treat back pain that has not responded to traditional treatments such as physical therapy or medication," said Blumenthal, a spinal surgeon.

Specifically, Blumenthal is treating degenerative disks which have bulged or ruptured, pressing on nerves and destroying quality of life.

"I've cried a lot over this," said Lackey, who ruptured a disk three years ago. "I can withstand a lot of pain, but there are times when it is unbearable."

The surgery is performed under local anesthetic. A catheter is threaded into the spine and heated up to near boiling point. During the 17-minute treatment, the heat shrinks torn and sagging ligaments, tightening up the disk and killing sensitive nerve endings that send out the pain.

The SpineCath procedure allows about 70 percent of patients to return to their normal jobs, continue to play sports and avoid any further interventions or treatments, Blumenthal said.

Gene Van Camp is one of the success stories. For 12 years, he lived on painkillers becaue of a herniated disk.

"I was having problems before surgery with numbness in the legs and stuff like that. All that's disappeared and the pain is pretty much all gone," said Van Camp.

The procedure isn't for everyone and doesn't work in up to 30 percent of the cases. But it's a promising halfway point between physical therapy and surgery that patients with back pain just may warm up to.

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