Knee replacements and hip replacements have long been used to improve pain or loss of function for these parts of the body. Using a similar concept, artificial disc replacement was developed to treat damaged discs in the spine. If your doctor has recommended this procedure to treat your ongoing neck or back pain, you may have questions about the long-term outcomes: How long does artificial disc replacement last? Can this surgery provide you lasting relief?
Before they consent to any surgery at DISC Sports & Spine Center, we want our patients to be fully informed. Below, we’ll address these common questions to help guide your decision-making.
Understanding Artificial Disc Replacement Surgery
When you move, the discs in-between the bones of your spine provide cushioning, absorbing impact and keeping your bones from rubbing together. But just like many structures in your body, the effects of aging and general wear and tear can cause your discs to degenerate over time. They can shrink and lose their buffering ability, or they can shift out of place, causing inflammation and nerve pain.
One method of alleviating this pain is to remove the damaged disc and replace it with a man-made implant. Artificial discs are designed to replicate natural discs, so they help carry the load of your spine while still allowing for movement. Ultimately, the goal of artificial disc replacement is to keep your spine functioning as it would in a normal, healthy state.
Learning How Artificial Disc Replacement Fares over Time
Artificial disc replacement was approved for use in the United States in the early 2000s, so we still don’t have any data on the full “life expectancy” of artificial discs. That being said, many studies have been done to examine the outcomes of artificial disc replacement at five and 10 years post-surgery, and the results are very encouraging.
It helps to understand that prior to the start of artificial disc replacement, spinal fusion was the primary method of surgically repairing damaged discs. During this procedure, the old disc material is cleared out and a bone graft is inserted into the space. The bone graft encourages the vertebrae above and below it to “fuse” together into a solid piece of bone. This stops movement at that level of the spine and helps relieve pain.
The problem with spinal fusion is that the lack of movement puts more stress on the parts of the spine above and below it. Over time, this can cause more damage to those neighboring levels of the spine, a condition known as adjacent segment disease.
Much of the research on artificial disc replacement also compares its performance to spinal fusion in the years after surgery. Here too, artificial disc replacement shows promising results. Several studies have shown that patient satisfaction is higher after artificial disc replacement compared to fusion, and there is a lower incidence of needing another surgery in the future.
Even more exciting is that new generations of artificial discs continue to be developed and studied. It is reasonable to expect that as these new implants become available, the long-term outcomes of artificial disc replacement will only continue to improve.
Maximizing Your Results from Artificial Disc Replacement
It is critically important to follow your doctor’s orders as you’re recovering from surgery. And beyond that, keeping your spine healthy can help you maintain the best possible results for the longest time. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- Maintain a healthy weight, so as not to put extra stress on your spine.
- Keep up with your physical therapy or exercise program as directed to improve your strength and flexibility and decrease your risk of injury.
- Be mindful of your posture, and try not to stay in one position for too long.
- Use good body mechanics, especially when lifting or carrying heavy objects.
- Eat foods rich in nutrients and drink a lot of water.
- Find a mattress and pillow that appropriately support your spine when you sleep.
- Wear good, supportive shoes.
- Let your doctor know if you have concerns or new problems develop.
At DISC Sports & Spine Center, we can’t directly answer the question, “How long does artificial disc replacement last?”—simply because that data doesn’t exist yet. But we can tell you that we continue to see positive, long-term results in our patients who have had artificial disc replacement. Because we use the highest-quality implants and minimally invasive surgical techniques, our patients recover quickly and get back to an active, pain-free life. If you’d like to learn more about how artificial disc replacement can help you, contact us to schedule a consultation.
About the author
Richard Kim, M.D. Born and raised in Southern California, Dr. Richard Kim earned his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from University of California, Riverside. This followed with a Master of Science in biochemistry and neurophysiology. He then earned his medical degree from St. Louis University School of Medicine in Missouri, graduating Magna Cum Laude. Read more articles by Richard Kim, M.D..