The spine consists of a stack of bones (vertebrae), one on top of the other, that helps to support the body and help us move and bend. To cushion the effects of vertebra-on-vertebra pressure, the body has discs between the vertebrae which act as spacers and shock absorbers. When these discs are damaged, lose their shape, bulge or burst open, or just wear out over time, they can put pressure on nearby nerves. All of the nerves of the body wind up connected to the spinal column, so it is not very hard for a damaged disc to compress nearby nerves. Over time, the nerves can become inflamed, further intensifying the pain.
Surgery as a Treatment Option
People with chronic pain from degenerative disc disorders or spondylolisthesis sometimes consider surgery when other, more conservative, treatment options do not work. For many people, conservative treatments such as medication, physical therapy, exercise, and other methods relieve back pain. Sometimes this is not enough and surgery is considered.
The Artificial Disc
In recent years, physicians in Berlin, Germany achieved a medical breakthrough with the invention of what has been nicknamed the “artificial disc.” Like it sounds, this is a medical device designed to take the place of a damaged disc.
How Artificial Disc Surgery Works
Artificial disc surgery is not right for all patients with damaged discs In the appropriate patient, spinal surgery under general anesthesia is performed, during which the damaged disc is removed (discectomy).
The University Spine Center surgical team would then restore normal spacing for the disc, usually by separating the vertebrae. The disc area is then measured and the most closely matching artificial disc is selected and placed where the damage disc was removed. During surgery, imaging techniques are used to make sure the artificial disc is a good fit.
Considering Surgical Options
Many candidates for an artificial disc are also candidates for spinal fusion surgery. Discuss both choices with your University Spine Center physician. The main advantages of an artificial disc over conventional spinal fusion include:
- Faster recovery times after surgery.
- More spinal mobility after surgery.
- Reduced stress on the adjacent discs.
- No need to harvest bones for a bone graft.
Candidates for the Artificial Disc
Your University Spine Center physician will help you determine if artificial disc surgery is a procedure you should consider. In general, appropriate candidates are those:
- With chronic pain from a degenerative disc disorder or spondylolisthesis between L4 and L5 of the lower back or between L5 and the sacrum.
- Who have tried other methods for at least six months to manage their back pain with no success.
- In good general health and free of infections.
What to Expect from Surgery
Artificial disc replacement is major surgery and is performed under general anesthesia. How long the procedure lasts depends on many factors, including your age and other health conditions. The University Spine Center is committed to answering your questions and will help inform you about the risks and benefits of this kind of procedure. Recovery depends on the length and complexity of the procedure and your general health.