What is Artificial Disc Replacement?

Artificial disc replacement is a surgical procedure performed to treat back pain. Also known as spine arthroplasty, artificial disc replacement replaces painful or damaged discs in your spine with prostheses, or artificial discs. Spinal discs hold the vertebrae (spinal bones) together and also act as joints. These discs can become worn down over time (disc degeneration), potentially moving out of place or collapsing. This affects nearby bones or nerves, leading to pain and possibly arthritis. When conservative measures, such as medication and exercise, fail to relieve symptoms, surgery is an option.

Traditionally, surgery would remove a problematic disc, and join the remaining vertebrae together with pins or screws in a procedure called spinal fusion. Unfortunately, spinal fusion reduces mobility and can potentially offer no pain relief. Spine arthroplasty is an alternative to spinal fusion that preserves normal motion because it uses a replacement disc to mimic the function of a healthy one. If you have a spinal fracture or arthritis or if your symptoms are due to multiple damaged discs, then spinal fusion may be a better option for you. However, if the source of your pain can be attributed to an isolated spinal disc, you may be a candidate for spine arthroplasty.

Artificial disc replacement is done through an anterior approach, meaning you lie on your back and an incision is made on your abdomen. Your organs and blood vessels are moved aside so that your surgeon can reach your spine. Your surgeon identifies the problematic disc, removes it, and replaces it with a prosthetic one using image guidance. Surgery is typically completed within 2-3 hours.

After your operation, you will remain in the hospital for around 2-4 days, depending on your level of pain. During this time, you may work with a physical or occupational therapist. You will be able to do activities such as walking and driving when you are discharged from the hospital, but more strenuous activities should be restricted in the weeks following your surgery. Full recovery may take about six weeks.

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