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3 Indications that You Need Artificial Disc Replacement Surgery

Did you know that a huge component of your surgeon’s job takes place before a single incision has even been made? Selecting the right surgical procedure for your individual case is necessary to help you get the best results.

If you’ve had ongoing back or neck pain, your surgeon might consider a procedure known as artificial disc replacement. But with so many other treatment options available, you may wonder how your surgeon determines if you are a candidate. Here are three indications that artificial disc replacement could be the solution for you.

1. You’ve tried conservative treatments, but they haven’t worked.

Most of the time, non-surgical treatments are effective. Surgery usually won’t even be discussed unless your pain or other symptoms persist after several weeks of conservative treatment options. These treatments may be as simple as rest, heat or ice, and over-the-counter pain medicine. If that’s not enough, your doctor may recommend prescription medications, physical therapy, or steroid injections. But if you are still not getting adequate relief after an extended period of time, artificial disc replacement may be something to consider.

2. Your pain is coming from a damaged disc in your spine.

Spine pain can originate from many sources. Did you pull a muscle? Do you have arthritis? Or is it from one of the spongy discs between the bones of your spine? Knowing what’s causing your pain will help dictate the right treatment.

As obvious as it may seem, one indication for artificial disc replacement is that you’ve been diagnosed with disc disease. The discs in your spine act as cushions, keeping your vertebrae separated and protecting the other components of your spine. But continued impact over time can cause your discs to wear down, leading to degenerative disc disease. Or you can develop a herniated disc, in which a fragment of the disc is pushed out into your spinal canal.

To confirm this diagnosis, your doctor will ask you about what symptoms you are experiencing and do a physical exam. Imaging studies, such as an MRI or a CT scan, may be ordered to look for signs of disc degeneration or herniation. If needed, further testing may be performed to pinpoint the disc in question.  

3. You are experiencing problems from a pinched nerve in your neck or back.

A damaged disc can do more than cause pain at its location in your spine. When a disc wears down or herniates out of place, it can put pressure on spinal nerves in that area. Depending on where this occurs, you may experience pain, numbness, weakness, or tingling radiating down your arms or legs.

Keep in mind that your surgeon will look at more than just these three criteria before recommending artificial disc replacement. Every case is unique, so things such as your previous surgical history and the presence of other medical conditions will help your surgeon decide if you’re a good candidate for the procedure.

If artificial disc replacement is right for you ...

It helps to understand the basics of the procedure. Artificial disc replacement may be performed as a minimally invasive spine surgery to replace one, or sometimes two, damaged discs in your spine with a man-made prosthetic disc. It’s often used to treat degenerative disc disease in your neck, but in some cases, it may also be used for your lower back.

Your old disc is removed through a small incision and the artificial disc is inserted in its place, allowing you to still move and function naturally. The space between your two vertebrae is restored to the proper height to take the pressure off your spinal nerves, alleviating those uncomfortable symptoms.

Recovery from artificial disc replacement may be shorter than you expect. Surgery is often done on an outpatient basis. You will be on your feet within a few hours after the procedure and can likely resume activities such as driving and working after a week or two. You’ll be able to participate in more vigorous activities around six weeks after surgery.

At DISC Sports & Spine Center, our surgeons perform many types of spine surgery, including artificial disc replacement, on a routine basis. During your evaluation, we’ll discuss your diagnosis, your goals for treatment, and your options. If artificial disc replacement is appropriate, we’ll walk you through the entire process, so you are fully informed when making your treatment decisions. And if it’s not, rest assured that we will find the right alternative for you—your successful outcome is our ultimate objective!

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Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D.

About the author

Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D. Nicknamed “Dr. Fix-It” by The Red Bulletin, Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D. makes an art of helping the world’s most elite athletes return to push the boundaries of performance. The neurological spine surgeon, recognized globally for his thorough diagnoses and pioneering minimally invasive approach, is quickly redefining sports medicine, one champion at a time. Dr. Bray founded the state-of-the-art, multi-disciplinary DISC Sports & Spine Center (DISC) in 2006 located in Los Angeles, CA. Read more articles by Robert S. Bray, Jr., M.D..