Artificial disc surgery is a relatively new procedure in the United States. As the FDA has approved several brands of artificial discs since 2004, the surgery has steadily gained popularity. Also called artificial disc replacement, or ADR, surgery, artificial disc surgery may be considered when one of the soft, spongy intervertebral discs that normally cushion the vertebrae becomes deteriorated to the point of causing severe pain and disability.
Historically, the treatment plan of choice for severely damaged discs has been a spinal fusion. In this open back surgery, a team of surgeons removes the affected disc and fuses the neighboring vertebrae together with hardware and bone grafts. As a result, the patient experiences a loss of flexibility. In some cases, fusion also has been known to place additional strain on surrounding vertebrae, meaning that pain may end up being transferred along the spine to another segment.
As an alternative to a massively invasive procedure like spinal fusion, doctors have developed two different options for patients to consider: artificial disc surgery and endoscopic spine surgery. With artificial disc surgery, a team of surgeons accesses the affected disc – again through open back surgery – and surgically removes the damaged disc. Then, surgeons replace the problematic disc with a prosthetic, or manmade, disc. Theoretically, the artificial disc allows patients to retain their flexibility and diminish the additional stress placed on the rest of the spine.
However, because artificial disc surgery is still an intrusive open back procedure and fairly new, patients need to consider the potential risks and downsides of the operation:
- Rejection of the artificial disc
- Patients with degenerated vertebrae may not be good candidates for an artificial disc
- Continued post-operative pain from scar tissue buildup
- Risk of infection or hemorrhaging from the surgical site
- Failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS)
- Lengthy recovery and rehabilitation
- Requires hospitalization
- Can only be used on one symptomatic disc in the spine
- No long-term studies have been done on the lifespan of artificial discs
- And more
On the other hand, there is an alternative to spinal fusion and artificial discs. Endoscopic spine procedures from Laser Spine Institute (LSI) are minimally invasive, outpatient forms of orthopedic surgery, which utilize gentle lasers to surgically treat deteriorated spinal discs – without the lengthy recovery of open back surgery. To learn more about all of your options, including artificial disc surgery, and for a free review of your MRI, contact LSI today.