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Your Healthy Family: How sagittal imbalance impacts a person's life

Posted at 6:29 PM, Oct 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-05 20:29:12-04

TELLER COUNTY, COLORADO — In 2018, Mike Kern’s back pain had gotten so bad that he says simply existing was a struggle. “I believe if I hadn't met him, I wouldn't be here. I was in so much pain,” Kern said, referring to orthopedic spine surgeon Dr. Sergiu Botolin with UCHealth, who specializes in complex spine cases.

Dr. Botolin explains the daily challenges patients like Mike face: “They are very functionally impaired. They cannot walk for very long. They have to sit every few minutes or so. Their daily activities are completely affected by this condition. They have significant low back pain. They may have symptoms in their legs. They have muscle pain and things like that.”

The condition is called sagittal imbalance, and Dr. Botolin explains it has to do with the curves in our spine. “When we are born, we have a C-shaped spinal column. As we grow and we start sitting, walking, and looking at the horizon, we develop four curvatures in the spine that help us do this in a very efficient manner.”

In Mr. Kern’s case, Dr. Botolin explained, the curvatures were lost, causing a sagittal imbalance in the spine. “This makes them very inefficient from a muscular standpoint, and they have very big difficulties walking and standing upright. If they attempt to stand upright, they have to flex their knees and hips and this is a very difficult position that a human being can stand in.”

Dr. Botolin adds that even in cases like Mike’s, when it comes to back pain, surgery isn't the first option. “Mr. Kern underwent a significant, non-surgical treatment prior to even considering surgery, as we do with every patient, and when that treatment failed to provide him with significant improvement in his quality of life, we started talking about surgery.”

Dr. Botolin says in Mike’s case, the surgery was an 8 in terms of difficulty on a scale of 1 to 10.

“The surgery for a condition like this involves literally breaking the spine and realigning it into a more favorable position for this physiologic alignment.”

Mike says it takes faith to put the health of your spine and a complex surgery in the hands of a surgeon, but he immediately felt a special connection to Dr. Botolin. “I saw Dr. Botolin and instantly liked everything about him. His concern, his honesty, his inquisitiveness. Just to find out exactly what was wrong - his explanations on things.

At that point in 2018, my thoracic spine was a mess and that's thoracic lumbar and that's why all the pain went down my lower body, so I went for a total reconstruction in a 10-hour surgery. Coming out of it, I have to admit the recovery is not pleasant. It takes a while.”

In our next story, learn how Mike is doing these days, and his thank-you message for Dr. Botolin for helping him get his life back.

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