Avera Medical Minute: Fixing lower back and leg pain with surgery in Aberdeen

ABERDEEN, S.D. - Orthopedic spine surgeons said one of the most common issues they see patients for is lower back pain. Many can fix it without having surgery, but some can't.

Luther Schumacher started having pain in his left leg last summer.

"In June and July, it was extremely painful even taking a walk. Putting on my shoes was almost impossible," he said.

So he started seeing a physical therapist in Aberdeen for about a month and a half.

"He decided at some point that things were still not quite right, so he referred me on," Schumacher said.

Schumacher had an MRI done, and that's when he was introduced to an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. James MacDougall.

"Luther was suffering from back and leg pain secondary to a disc herniation and some degenerative stenosis in his back," Dr. MacDougall said.

He said this causes nerve root compression, which results in the leg and back pain Schumacher experienced. 90% of patients can get better without needing surgery. But Schumacher was part of the other 10%.

"It entails a small incision with fairly atraumatic dissection through the muscles down to the spine, making a small opening in the spine, creating enough room for the nerve root by removing bone and thickened ligament and then removing herniated disc fragments. That takes pressure off the nerve root," Dr. MacDougall said.

Schumacher's surgery was done in August. It was also close to home in Aberdeen, where he worked for the school district for more than 25 years.

"So here comes my anesthetist. He gives me a big hug, and he reminds me that I was his principal. It was a good story. It was a good situation," he said. "That really put me at ease. He said, 'We'll take really good care of you Mr. Schumacher. Don't worry.'"

The surgery only takes between thirty minutes and an hour.

"The components of the surgery need to be precise and done meticulously; minimize bleeding, minimize soft tissue trauma to have the best chance for a good result," Dr. MacDougall said.

"Things are going very well. I'm very pleased. I don't have the pain any more," Schumacher said.

He's had to limit what he does for six months though.

"It's kind of hard to keep the lid on, but I'm doing well," Schumacher said.

So now he's ready to get back to retired life, pain free. If Dr. MacDougall wasn't in Aberdeen, the nearest orthopedic spine surgeon would be in Sioux Falls. Other than that, Schumacher would have had to travel out-of-state for the procedure.