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Pain-Free Pursuits

Spine Surgery Helps Avid Athlete Return to Active Lifestyle

Marathon runner Alan Ehrenberg of Northbrook was used to training up to 100 miles a week for race days. This mindset served him well when he opted for surgery at NorthShore to treat excruciating back pain that left him barely able to get out of bed.

“For years, I ran marathons and always worked out,” said Ehrenberg, 63, “but my back got so bad that I was taking 12 painkillers a day!”

Ehrenberg tried to relieve his pain with massage therapy and epidurals. Then, he decided to follow the advice of a friend who had undergone surgery with NorthShore’s Srdjan Mirkovic, MD. Dr. Mirkovic’s specialty is treating spinal disorders. He also is a spine consultant for the Chicago Bears.

An MRI revealed that Ehrenberg had lumbar spinal stenosis, which was creating pressure on the nerves in his lower back. “His pain also was caused by the joints between his vertebrae, which had become arthritic as part of the aging process,” said Dr. Mirkovic, himself a committed endurance athlete.

Dr. Mirkovic recommended surgery, so Ehrenberg underwent minimally invasive spine surgery at NorthShore.

“With an incision just over an inch long, we performed a laminectomy to reduce pressure on his spinal nerves and a lumbar spinal fusion to realign his back,” said Dr. Mirkovic.

In cases like this, which require meticulous precision, surgeons use tiny screws and rods to hold the spine in place and computerassisted navigation technology to guide their instruments.

Minimally invasive surgery typically results in quicker recoveries, and Ehrenberg recovered well. Dr. Mirkovic also attributes positive patient outcomes to experience. “We do a lot of these types of surgeries, and research shows that medical centers that perform more procedures have fewer complications,” he said.

“Now, more than a year after my surgery,” Ehrenberg said, “I have no pain and am back to where I was—playing golf, lifting weights, using the elliptical machine and running five days a week. I feel better than ever. It’s like a miracle!” Learn more about advanced treatments and personally tailored orthopaedic care at 847.35.SPINE or request a consultation online.