Could hip surgery cure back pain?

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Sixteen million adults in the U.S. suffer with chronic back pain. But a new study reports that a surgery typically done in patients over 60 can help people of all ages with their chronic back pain.

Jennifer O’Neill, 31, loves to live an active lifestyle. But three years ago, she was slowed down by hip pain followed by back pain two and a half years later.

“Just bending down, reaching forward to tie my shoes felt like someone was stabbing me in the back,” O’Neill said.

But a new study found that patients who have hip and lower back pain may be able to treat both conditions with a hip replacement.

“A lot of times we will do the hips first and as a result of that, the back issues improve,” said Dr. Scott Sporer, a joint replacement surgeon, at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush.

The researchers found 82% of patients who reported pain in their lower back before hip replacement surgery said their back pain disappeared after hip surgery. The patients who tend to benefit most from this are those with flexible spines.

“Your back is flexible as your hips are flexible,” Sporer said.

But since hip implants usually need to be replaced after 20 years, would hip surgery be a good option for someone as young as O’Neill?

“Those materials have changed quite dramatically over the years to where now we’re just not seeing the problems that we had 15, 20 years ago. This may very well be a life-long hip for her,” Sporer said.

When Sporer told O’Neill that having a hip replacement would solve both her hip and back pain, she was all in.

“I don’t want to be like not being able to make plans and stuff when I’m 31,” O’Neill said.

And two weeks after surgery …

“I already felt better than I had in three years. Like it was amazing. Being able to sit without pain coming on for like ten minutes in was like incredible,” O’Neill said with a smile.

The study did find that patients with stiff spines did not have their back problems resolved most likely due to serious arthritis of the spine. Sporer said most of his patients are able to return to normal activities, including running, three months after surgery.