Discs are spongy structures located between each pair of spine bones (vertebrae) to provide shock absorption and promote normal spine movement and flexibility. When a disc becomes very badly damaged, surgery may be needed to relieve pain and restore normal function. In the past, surgery involved removing the disc and fusing the vertebrae together using a graft. But more recently, disc replacement procedures have become popular. In these surgeries, the damaged natural disc is replaced with an artificial disc made of metal or polymer materials (or both) that have been designed to function as a natural disc.
Disc replacement surgery is performed to relieve chronic and debilitating spine pain and loss of normal function in the back or neck, as well as related symptoms like chronic pain, numbness or weakness radiating into the arms or legs. As with other spine surgeries, disc replacement surgery is performed when more conservative treatments like corticosteroid injections and other medications have failed to provide relief or when damage is too extensive for conservative treatments. Generally, disc replacement procedures may not be ideal for patients who have had prior surgery in the area, for those who are obese or for patients with certain spinal diseases like facet joint disease or scoliosis. Diagnostic imaging studies using CT scans, MRI or x-rays will be performed before surgery to help determine if the patient is a good candidate for artificial disc replacement.
Disc replacement surgery is performed under general anesthesia. During the surgery, incisions are made in the belly or the neck (depending on the location of the disc that’s being replaced) to enable the damaged disc and other debris to be removed. The surfaces of the vertebrae are carefully cleaned, and the artificial disc is inserted and secured. Once the disc is in place, x-rays will be used to confirm its position before closing the incisions and applying a dressing. Patients will remain in the hospital for a day or two before being discharged. Activity restrictions and complete recovery instructions will be provided before discharge.