Jacob’s Disease: Neurosurgeons’ take on the Challenge of the Spine

Guest Post from Deborah L. Benzil, MD, FACS, FAANS (right)
Chair, AANS/CNS Communications and Public Relations Committee
Vice Chair, Neurosurgery
Cleveland Clinic Foundation
Cleveland, OH

Kristopher T. Kimmell, MD (left)
Neurosurgeon at North Kansas City Hospital/Meritas Health
North Kansas City, MO

The individual activity of one man with backbone will do more than a thousand men with a mere wishbone. William J. H. Boetcker

Son, you’ll know you’re in love when a woman’s voice settles into your spine. – David Weber

What do Sojourner Truth, Barry Bonds, and President John F. Kennedy have in common? They all suffered from Jacob’s Disease (so named for the pain Jacob acquired after wrestling with the angel) — debilitating back pain that chronically and significantly impacted their lives. Historically, the spine has been a focus of medical concern dating back to 1500 BC (Edwin Smith Papyrus).  One particularly appealing early intervention for back pain came from old Rome. Octavia recommended a combination of sweet marjoram, rosemary leaf, wine and olive oil for application — along with the ability to store in an earthen jar for long-term re-application!

Through time, our understanding of the spine and its function and our capacity to treat spinal conditions has progressed considerably from these early forays. Today, spine-related disability has been called an epidemic. Consider the following:

  • Half of working Americans suffer from acute spine pain each year;
  • 33 percent of Americans younger than 18 years of age seek professional help for spine problems every five years;
  • 6.5 million people are treated each day for spine disorders;
  • Spine issues recognize no age, economic or ethnic barriers; and
  • Days off from disability related to the spine have increased more than 10 fold since 1955.

The wide range of spinal conditions is incredibly complex, can cause considerable disability, and, thus, can result in a high price tag. Inflammatory headlines regarding greedy surgeons and exponentially rising costs of spine care obfuscate the critical issue — namely, the United States population is aging at a marked rate. With age comes increased susceptibility to a variety of spinal problems, particularly with the expectation for maintained functional status in this vibrant and active population.

Because of the importance of this topic, Neurosurgery Blog has focused the last couple of months exclusively on the spine. Our goal was to shed important light on spine facts, innovation, and the role of spine interventions. Misinformation regarding spine care in the United States is a significant hindrance to understanding the critical issues surrounding the care of patients with spinal conditions. We highlighted these issues through the following blogs:

For the overwhelming number of Americans who have suffered from spine-related pain, they may wish they could heed the words of St. Vincent:

I wish I had a gentle mind and a spine made up of iron.

Given the magnitude of the problem, the issues surrounding spine care matter to all of us. Neurosurgeons will continue to lead the way in spine treatments, innovation and essential advocacy. Please continue the conversation by following and using the hashtag #SpineMonth.

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