What is Artificial Disc Replacement?
If you suffer from back or neck pain, you know it’s no laughing matter. Just getting out of the car or bending over to put on shoes can be a painful experience. It’s no way to live.
Artificial disc replacement (ADR) surgery can offer people suffering from chronic, severe back and neck pain a way to be mobile and active with minimal pain or discomfort. ADR is an alternative to traditional disc fusion surgery that can sometimes require a lengthy recovery and rehabilitation period.
“A healthy back is something many of us take for granted,” says Jack Zigler, M.D., an orthopedic spine surgeon on the medical staff at Texas Center for Diagnostics & Surgery in Plano. “But as much as 80 percent of us can expect to suffer from back pain, usually in the lower back [lumbar spine], at some point during our lifetime. There are conservative measures that should be taken first to prevent or relieve pain episodes. But if self-care or home remedies fail to provide significant pain relief, it may be time to visit with a spine specialist about disc replacement.”
“Artificial disc replacements have given my patients a better quality of life over the past 20 years. Replacing a failing disc promotes pain relief while preserving the body’s natural motion and flexibility.”
Zigler notes that the value of ADR is its ability to place less stress on the spine and adjacent discs. Less stress equals less risk of degeneration, and potentially less need for additional surgeries. Both single and two level cervical (neck) and lumbar disc replacement procedures are FDA-approved and have been for years.
Are You a Candidate for ADR?
Artificial disc replacement isn’t for everyone, according to Zigler. There are other factors, such as bone quality, spinal alignment and bone-forming potential that may require a fusion for correction. “But many patients are candidates for either fusion or disc replacement, and the advantages of disc replacement — particularly a lower rate of future surgery — should make it a better choice. It is important to speak to a surgeon who has experience with both fusion and arthroplasty, discuss the pros and cons, and make an educated decision,” he adds.
Candidates for artificial disc replacement may have one or more of the following characteristics:
- Neck pain with or without arm pain
- Lower back pain with or without leg pain
- Conservative treatment without significant relief of pain
- Degenerative disc disease
- Herniated cervical (neck) or lumbar (lower back) discs
- Previous disc surgery with continued pain
- Have been told they should have a fusion
Disc Replacement Surgery and Recovery
Disc replacement, whether in the low back or neck, consists of removing the diseased or damaged soft area that joins the vertebral bodies at the front of the spine. During disc replacement surgery, your surgeon will remove your problematic disc and insert an artificial disc implant into the space.
On average, most patients are able to go home from the hospital 1 day after either a lumbar or cervical disc replacement surgery, and many return to work within 2-4 weeks after surgery. Patients can gradually begin to bend, twist and lift after 4-6 weeks as the pain subsides and the back muscles get stronger.
“Usually the recovery periods are surprisingly short for both lumbar and cervical disc replacement,” Zigler says. “We like to have patients up and walking within a few hours of surgery, and typically going home within 24 hours after their surgery ends. We ask our patients to wear a light corset under their clothes for 2-3 weeks after lumbar surgery, and after neck arthroplasty we recommend a soft collar for a week or two. Disc replacements are done to restore and maintain mobility, so we do not want to immobilize the spine for too long.”
Ready to schedule an appointment? Find a back and spine specialist on the medical staff near you.