Artificial Disc Replacement

Artificial disc surgery is an alternative to spinal fusion for the treatment of instability and painful degeneration of the spine.  In a spinal fusion, two or more bones in the spine (vertebrae) are fused together – usually with metal plates and screws – eliminating motion between them.  In artificial disc surgery, the damaged disc is replaced with a prosthetic disc, which allows full range of motion of the spine while still ensuring stability and reducing pain.  Artificial disc replacement can be performed in both the cervical and lumbar spine.

Disc replacement is typically performed on an outpatient basis with the patient under general anesthesia.  The procedure requires one to three hours of surgical time.  Patients are typically positioned face up in the operating room for an anterior approach and a one to two inch (3-5cm) horizontal incision is made on one side of the patient’s neck. Lumbar disc replacement surgery may be performed outpatient, however often requires inpatient care.  In either case, the damaged disc is then exposed and removed. Magnification with a microscope is typically used to facilitate complete removal of the disc and decompression of the associated nerves. After preparing the disc space, the disc replacement device is sized and carefully placed into position between the vertebrae. Fluoroscopy (live X Ray imaging) is utilized to facilitate proper positioning of the disc replacement implant. The incision is then closed.  Patients are typically discharged home the same day or the next morning following surgery.  Pain from the procedure is usually limited and improves markedly within two to three days. Nerve symptoms such as pain, numbness, and weakness are often dramatically improved within hours of the surgery, but in some cases can take weeks or even months to recover. Most patients return to light work within a week or two of surgery and to full duty six weeks following the procedure.