Spine surgery is typically seen as a last resort treatment option for patients who have thoroughly explored conservative treatment options and are still dealing with debilitating neck or back pain. In these situations, a surgical procedure can represent the best chance of long-term relief and a return to a regular activity level.
A major source of neck and back pain are conditions that affect the spinal discs, such as a herniated, bulging or so-called slipped disc. While some types of disc surgery only involve removal of a small portion of damaged disc material, others require full disc replacement. While one approach is to use bone graft material to fuse the surrounding vertebrae to stabilize the disc space, another is to use an artificial disc that can simulate the functions of our natural discs.
To help you learn more about disc replacement and artificial discs, the USA Spine Care team has put together the following helpful guide. We’re here to help, so if you have any questions or would like to learn more, don’t hesitate to reach out.
What to know about disc replacement and artificial disc surgery
In the spinal column, our discs basically serve as shock absorbers. These rubbery pieces of cartilage between almost all of our vertebrae are filled with a fluid, allowing us to bend, flex and rotate the spine smoothly. Like other parts of our anatomy, these discs begin to dry out and lose elasticity over time. This is what leads to disc conditions that cause spinal instability and painful nerve compression.
For a large number of patients diagnosed with a disc condition, often referred to informally as a slipped disc, conservative treatments can be very effective. This includes rest, over-the-counter medication, hot/cold compression, physical therapy and pain-relieving injections. However, disc surgery can become a serious consideration if weeks or months of conservative care does not offer the relief necessary for a good quality of life.
Types of disc surgery include:
- Decompression — This is a procedure that relieves nerve compression caused by displaced disc material by removing a small portion of the disc, or a partial discectomy.
- Fusion — If the disc is severely damaged or collapsed, a full disc removal may be required. In a fusion procedure, bone graft material is implanted into the now empty disc space to stabilize the region.
- Disc replacement — In certain situations where full disc removal is required, surgeons can implant an artificial disc into the disc space. Disc replacement can offer increased flexibility compared to fusion while still stabilizing the spinal column.
Approaches to the artificial disc implant vary according to the specific procedure type and location on the spinal column. Some are made from polymers and titanium while others use a metal-on-metal ball-and-socket design. The correct artificial disc will vary for each patient depending on the disc condition and location as well as the surgeon and surgical technique used. Artificial disc implants may not be available for all levels of the spinal column.
The right procedure will depend on a number of factors and requires consulting with an experienced spine surgeon.
How to find out if you are a candidate for disc replacement surgery
Not all patients are candidates for artificial disc replacement surgery. If you are considering disc surgery and wondering if disc replacement may be right for you, you should expect to undergo a thorough evaluation. In general, the following factors determine whether a patient is a suitable candidate for an artificial disc procedure:
- Patient age
- Patient weight
- Level of spine (upper or lower)
- Degree of spinal instability
- Degree of facet joint degeneration
- Presence of severe nerve compression
- Presence of spinal deformity such as scoliosis
Typical steps of evaluation for spine surgery include a thorough medical screening, movement tests and ordering new diagnostic imagery for the most current picture of spine health. After this evaluation, a surgeon can make the most informed determination about the type of disc surgery that offers the best chance of a positive outcome for treatment goals.
Whether patients are recommended to undergo decompression, fusion, or disc replacement procedures, the good news is that many spine procedures can be performed on an outpatient basis thanks to minimally invasive techniques. The procedures use a muscle-sparing approach and smaller incisions that offer patients the ability to be up and moving within hours of the procedure.
Explore your treatment options for disc conditions at USA Spine Care
If you’ve been diagnosed with a disc condition including herniated, bulging or slipped disc, the caring and dedicated team at USA Spine Care can help. No matter where you are on your treatment journey, our multidisciplinary team can help you design a personalized treatment plan that is right for your lifestyle. From conservative care to minimally invasive spine surgery, we’re committed to helping you find relief so you can get back to the people and activities you love.
Contact us today to learn more.
Disc Replacement Quick Answers
What is the goal of disc replacement surgery?
In cases where full disc removal is required, a disc replacement using an artificial disc can offer patients the chance of increased spinal mobility compared to a fusion. The goal of these procedures is to stabilize the spine while preserving natural flexibility. However, in some cases patients may need to undergo a fusion procedure in cases of full disc removal. Your surgeon can make this determination after a full evaluation.
Who is a candidate for disc replacement?
Not all patients are candidates for disc replacement surgery. Factors such as age, weight, degree of nerve compression and health of the surrounding discs all play a role. Patients should expect to undergo a thorough evaluation to determine if they are a good candidate for this type of procedure.
How long does a disc replacement last?
The lifetime of an artificial disc can vary depending on a number of considerations. This includes the manufacturer of the artificial disc, patient lifestyle factors and the presence of other spine conditions. Patients should generally expect an artificial disc to last for decades or longer without the need for revision or replacement.
Is disc replacement better than fusion?
The answer to this varies on a case-by-case basis. There are cases where a fusion procedure offers the patient the best chance of long-term pain relief and spinal stability. For other patients, an artificial disc may be appropriate and allow for increased spinal mobility. Consulting with an experienced spine surgeon and undergoing a thorough evaluation can help patients make the right determination.