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5 Things to Know About Artificial Disc Replacement

If you’re like most people, you probably never gave much thought to your intervertebral discs until you experienced a problem. These spongy structures sit in between the vertebrae of your spine, absorbing impact from activity and assisting with movement of your spine. 

Most people will develop degenerative changes in their intervertebral discs as they get older. As a result, symptoms such as pain in your neck or back, pain radiating down your arms or legs, and numbness or weakness in your extremities can occur. One method of treating degenerative discs is to replace damaged discs with artificial ones. Here are some important things to know about artificial disc replacement.

1.  Artificial disc replacement allows you to maintain movement and flexibility of your spine.

An artificial disc is designed to mimic the functions of your natural disc, preserving motion at that level of your spine. This is significant because spinal fusion, another procedure to treat degenerative disc disease, does just the opposite. Spinal fusion places an implant between two adjacent vertebrae, causing them to grow together into one solid bone and eliminating movement between them. 

In some cases, stopping movement at the painful joint is the best way to treat your symptoms of disc disease. But for others, artificial disc replacement may be more beneficial. 

2. Artificial disc replacement may help avoid a complication called adjacent segment disease. 

Adjacent segment disease refers to degeneration in the parts of the spine above and below the area of surgery. This has historically been a concern with spinal fusion. The theory is that when motion is prevented between two vertebrae, the adjacent segments of the spine have to take on more of the “load” and are more likely to develop complications themselves. But because artificial disc replacement allows for movement, adjacent segment disease should be less likely to occur.

In fact, long-term studies of the outcomes of artificial disc replacement support this. A study recently published in Spine followed up with patients 10 years after cervical (neck) artificial disc replacement or spinal fusion. Those who underwent artificial disc replacement had greater overall success rates, as well as a decreased incidence of further surgeries due to adjacent segment disease. 

3. Artificial disc replacement may be done in an outpatient setting as a minimally invasive spine surgery.

In the past, spine surgeries often involved large incisions and extended hospital stays. Now, an increasing number of spine surgeries, including artificial disc replacement, are performed in an outpatient environment using minimally invasive techniques. Minimally invasive spine surgery utilizes much smaller incisions, causing less damage to surrounding muscles and tissues. The benefit to patients? Less bleeding, decreased risk of infection, and fewer complications, just to name a few.  

4. Recovery from artificial disc replacement may be quicker than you anticipate. 

Though you may experience mild discomfort after surgery, it’s often well managed with ice and pain relievers. In fact, you’ll probably be out of bed and moving around within a few hours after the procedure. 

In general, patients are advised to rest and relax at home for the first week after surgery. But within a week or two, you should be able to drive and depending on your job, you may even return to work. Under your doctor’s guidance, you’ll gradually progress your activity level, from non-impact exercises in about three weeks to a more challenging physical therapy program around six weeks post-op. 

5. A board-certified spine surgeon can determine if artificial disc replacement is your best treatment option. 

Never underestimate the importance of who you select to provide your medical care. A highly trained spine surgeon will address your concerns and your goals for treatment. All possible solutions should be explored, including non-surgical options. If it’s determined that artificial disc replacement is right for you, you’ll be able to move forward with confidence. 

Whether you are a popular actress or a devoted father, the experts at DISC Sports & Spine Center understand how disc disease can impact your life. Schedule a consultation today to see how a DISC physician can improve your pain so you can get back to doing what you enjoy most. 

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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..