What Is Artificial Disc Replacement and How Does It Work

Disc degeneration is common among aging individuals, as spinal discs ( which separate vertebrae in the spine) tend to lose water and compress as we age. Degenerative disc disease ( DDD) can affect the neck area ( cervical spine) or the lower back ( lumbar spine) and the main symptom is pain that can range from moderate to severe. People with chronic neck pain or back pain that doesn’t respond to pain medication, physical therapy, or chiropractic care are usually diagnosed with DDD with an MRI. Surgery is an option for people with severe pain and consists of artificial disc replacement.

So what is artificial disc replacement? Essentially, this is a surgical procedure that involves replacing a painful spinal disc in the cervical or lumbar spine with an artificial disc, specifically designed to mimic the form and function of natural spinal discs. The artificial discs are metal devices that serve as implants and are typically made of two cobalt-chrome alloy or stainless steel endplates and an ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene insert between them. The endplates are typically coated to improve post-operative fixation to the vertebrae.

Artificial disc replacement is typically recommended for patients with severe back or neck pain for more than 6 months despite non-operative treatments. Total disc replacement (TDR) is aimed not only at relieving pain but also at preserving motion for quality of life. This surgical procedure is an alternative to traditional spinal fusion surgery. The recovery process will take less time because it doesn’t require bone to heal. Patients are generally encouraged to stand and walk within the first day after artificial disc replacement surgery. This procedure is usually not recommended for people with spinal deformities such as scoliosis.

People who want to know what is artificial disc replacement often experience not only neck or back pain ( depending on the location of the affected discs), but also numbness and tingling in their arms and legs, and muscle weakness, when the damaged or ruptured discs affect the nerves near their spine. For patients who undergo either cervical or lumbar artificial disc replacement, the surgical procedure called spinal fusion is no longer needed.

A successful artificial disc replacement surgery requires the expertise of a neurosurgeon who specializes in spine surgery. If you’re suffering from degenerative disc disease that does not respond to non-surgical treatment, you may want to schedule an appointment with a reputable, trusted, and experienced spinal neurosurgeon in your area to see if artificial disc replacement would be the right treatment option for you.