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Charles Burton

Spine surgery restores golf swing

Somehow, 18 holes of golf just didn't hold the same allure for Charles Burton, who was 73 and a Kansas State University engineering professor and construction consultant. Burton and his wife, Linda, always shared an active life together, walking, jogging, biking, lifting weights and enjoying an occasional round of golf. About three years ago, pain in Burton’s legs and lower back sidelined him from these activities and almost left him unable to get around.

"My leg would feel like it was going to sleep while I was walking or just going through daily movements. I also had considerable pain in my lower back anytime I was upright. It got to where I was walking more or less bent over, with my upper torso at an angle."

"I had a pretty good idea what was wrong," Burton notes. "I knew I needed to get moving again, and seeing a surgeon is what it would take."

-Charles Burton

Burton has always stayed on top of his health. So the diagnosis of lumbar spinal stenosis, or a narrowing of the space in the lower back that contains nerves that supply the legs, did not take him by surprise. It motivated him to find a way to fix the problem.

"I had a pretty good idea what was wrong," Burton notes. "I knew I needed to get moving again, and seeing a surgeon is what it would take."

Spinal stenosis is a common problem that comes with aging, as discs in the spine age and deteriorate. These changes begin to squeeze and irritate the nerves within and around the spinal canal. Slowly, over a period of time, this often causes neurogenic claudication, or pain, numbness and weakness in the buttocks, legs and feet, and in the lower back when standing or walking.

Burton’s first visit to the Marc A. Asher, MD, Comprehensive Spine Center was in November 2008. Here, spine surgeon R. Sean Jackson, MD, met with Burton and performed an initial assessment and tests. He recommended a common type of surgery for this condition – a decompressive laminectomy. Because Burton also had a spondylolysis, one or more vertebra slipping of out of line, the laminectomy alone could have made his spine unstable. Dr. Jackson recommended a spinal fusion procedure to give his back greater stability after the surgery.

"This is a common ailment we see in older patients, making it difficult for them to walk or stand for any length of time," Dr. Jackson says. "It's like there is a napkin ring around the nerves in their spine that squeezes tightly whenever they are upright. Surgery is a major step toward helping these patients regain their movement."

After surgery, Burton could feel an immediate change. For the first time in about three years, he did not have leg pain. Not that the recovery process from any spinal surgery is instantaneous. Healing requires careful movement, slow increases and frequent checkups, including X-rays to follow a patient's progress.

Burton resumed teaching full-time in January 2009, about a month after his spine surgery. His golf game? He resumed his swing in late May, after a successful checkup at 5 1/2 months.