Your Guide To Artificial Disc Replacement

Our intervertebral discs ensure the health of our spine. Without these discs, our vertebrae would lock into place like a puzzle, functioning like a stiff and rigid column. Furthermore, our vertebrae would rub together, bone-against-bone as we moved, turned, or bent at the waist.  As a matter of fact, this would make movements like stooping or twisting impossible. Bone spurs would grow. Vertebrae would compress spinal nerves. And, in short, a multitude of harmful consequences would occur.

Thankfully, we have these wonderful intervertebral discs that sit between each of our vertebrae. These champions provide a lubricating, cushiony pillow that enables smooth, pain-free movement of the spine. Not only this, but our intervertebral discs also absorb a majority of the pressure and forces that compress our spine as we move. For example, those little discs help your spine by absorbing all manner of jarring forces… Like those dreaded potholes that tend to show up around this time of year!

However, disease, injury, or normal wear-and-tear can injure our intervertebral discs. And, a bulging, herniated, or degenerated disc can lead to nerve compression, bone-on-bone friction, and debilitating pain. For these situations, an artificial disc replacement may provide an advantageous solution.

An artificial disc replacement can relieve the pressure caused by a herniated disc and restore lost mobility to your joints. But, most importantly, this minimally invasive procedure can help you to get back to living your best life. For many, this surgery is a life-saver.

But, how does it work? How do I know if I can have this procedure? And, am I going to be bedridden for months afterward? Let’s answer some of these questions now.

Who Is This Procedure Designed For?

  • Those who suffer from incapacitating pain because of a bulging or herniated disc
  • Individuals who have attempted at least 6 months of conservative treatments, including pain management, corticosteroid injections, and physical therapy
  • Those who have undergone an MRI to confirm disc damage and rule out fractures, bone spurs, or other conditions

Who is Not a Candidate for this Procedure?

  • Pregnant women
  • Those with more than one damaged intervertebral disc. (In some cases, especially with the cervical spine, you may require a multi-level or two-disc replacement.)
  • Those with a spinal infection (or Osteomyelitis)
  • If you have spinal stenosis, osteoporosis, spondylolisthesis, or another severe form of spinal instability

What exactly is an Artificial Disc Replacement?

An Artificial Disc Replacement is a state-of-the-art procedure that is fairly new to orthopedics. Despite its status as a recent addition to the ortho world, these tried-and-true methods achieve lasting—and impressive—results. Especially when compared to traditional fusion methods, the advances in artificial disc materials mimic the natural function of our discs. Instead of limiting our mobility, therefore, these prosthetic devices can fully restore the movement of our spine.

Biomedical engineers have designed several different versions of the artificial disc. Nevertheless, a majority of artificial discs follow the same general composition. Two surgical-grade metal or plastic plates compose the artificial disc. Furthermore, sandwiched between these plates sits a flexible, silicone material that mimics the elasticity and versatility of our natural discs.

After your surgeon removes your damaged disc, he or she will insert an artificial disc into the empty space. In addition, your surgeon will attach the metal or plastic plates to the adjacent vertebrae. In special cases, your orthopedist will use a bone graft to fuse your artificial disc to the vertebrae. This flexible implant restores the height to your spine and allows for a wide range of pain-free movement.

What Happens Following the Surgery?

So, you’ve met all the criteria for surgery. You’ve worked closely with your physician to prepare. And, you’ve made it through the procedure to the recovery room. What happens now? Although you will devise an individualized recovery plan with your team, your healing process will likely include:

  • Minimally invasive techniques allow for only 1-3 days of hospitalization. So, you should be back in the comfort of your home shortly!
  • Your doctor will encourage movement shortly after your procedure. (Movement can help with healing and the prevention of a stiff back.)
  • Your doctor may prescribe physical therapy to aid in your recovery. A physical therapist can help you find exercises that will help build strength and flexibility while protecting your healing back.
  • Your surgeon will schedule follow-up appointments, with X-rays or other imaging techniques to monitor the progress of your implant.

Following an Artificial Disc Replacement, most people will have a successful recovery that restores pain-free movement to the spine. Contact your physician today to see if you are a candidate!