Artificial disc replacement

Depending on the severity and location of your back or neck pain, you might benefit from artificial disc replacement.

The vertebrae in your spine are separated by rubbery cartilage discs that separate the building blocks of the spine. These intervertebral discs allow for movement of the spine and act as shock absorbers with activity. When a disc becomes damaged due to the degenerative effects of aging or from an injury, it can compress a cervical or lumbar nerve root in the spine, resulting in pain, numbness, irritation or weakness.

If non-surgical treatments like medication, physical therapy or injection therapy aren’t effective, surgery remains an option. If your condition requires removing the entire disc rather than just a portion of it, you may be a candidate for artificial disc replacement.

Artificial disc replacement is a type of minimally invasive spine surgery that removes a damaged disc and replaces it with an artificial one made of a metal, polymers, or a combination of metal and polymers.

Alternative to spinal fusion

Spinal fusion was once considered the best surgical treatment for chronic back or neck pain caused by a disc damaged beyond repair. Whereas fusion results in permanent loss of motion in the affected area, an artificial disc replacement accomplishes the same objective while preserving motion. It can correct nerve root compression and its associated symptoms while maintaining normal back movement. Artificial disc replacement also minimizes the potential need for future corrective surgery in the same location.

Most artificial disc replacement procedures replace a disc in the cervical (neck) portion of the spine. Less common is artificial disc replacement in the lumbar spine. However, the scientific literature has demonstrated benefit in well selected patients.

During surgery, your neurosurgeon will remove the damaged disc and replace it with a biomechanical disc made of a metal, plastic or combination of metal and plastic.

Are you a candidate for an artificial disc?

Not everyone is a candidate for artificial disc replacement. Ideal candidates are young and otherwise healthy individuals. In cases of severe degeneration, restoring motion through artificial disc replacement can be more damaging or potentially dangerous.

Recovery after surgery

Most patients who have artificial disc replacement surgery return home the same day to rest and heal in the comfort of home. Physical therapy usually starts about a month after surgery and includes range-of-motion activities, exercises to increase core strength, and other movements that promote overall back health. Walking is another important part of the recovery process.

Impact sports and/or training exercises can usually be resumed about three months after artificial disc replacement surgery.