Spinal disorders are not uncommon to a high percentage of the global population, with about 80% of the Americans experiencing at least one episode of back pain during their lifetime. As people age, they experience a deterioration of the mechanical and biological integrity in their intervertebral discs. Disc deterioration either affects the spinal unit leading to a number of painful entities or may actually produce pain directly.

Not long ago, the only treatment options for spinal disorders included non-surgical therapy. Patients undergoing these treatments would be taken through options such as heat, rest, analgesics, manipulation and physical therapy. Unfortunately, many patients do not respond to these treatments as expected. Other surgical management treatment like spine decompression, spinal manipulation, and arthrodesis have also been explored but have been found to lead to recurrent disc rupture, degenerative processes, spinal stenosis and instability.

The Efficacy of Artificial Disc Replacement

The good news is that there exists a more effective surgical treatment option for lumbar and cervical spines known as artificial disc replacement. This process replaces the painful disc with another fully functional artificial implant. After the success of two disc implants back in 2004 and 2006, the US approved this approach as a vitable treatment option for spinal disease. Since then, more and more people have embraced it to treat spinal disorders compared to non surgical treatments.

Primary Purpose of Disc Replacement Surgery

Artificial disc replacement surgery is a treatment for chronic back pains that restores the normal functioning of the intervertebral disc. It does this without the common problems associated with non surgical options mentioned above. The disc implant is manufactured with materials that pose no danger to the human body therefore the patient feels much better after the procedure. It’s almost like being given a new lease of life.

Today, disc replacement surgery can be done on both the neck (cervical spine) and low back (lumbar spine.) The former, cervical disc replacement surgery is more common as other treatment alternatives are notably more effective for the lumbar spine (i.e spinal fusion surgery.)

The Surgical Procedure Explained

The process involves the removal of a problematic spinal disc and replacing it with a prosthetic implant usually made of metal which can either have a plastic bearing surface or not. A surgeon makes an incision in the lower abdomen then moves the abdominal organs to the side for a better view of the spine. The next step is the careful removal of the degenerated and collapsed disc without any damage to the other parts of the body.

The artificial disc is then implanted starting with two endplates (usually a cobalt chromium alloy) then the medium core. This makes use of specialized surgical instruments. The endplates press above and below the disc space while teething along the vertebral bone at the border of the endplate for a good grip.

After the replacement, the surgeon places a polyethylene core between the endplates. A combined effort of the spinal ligaments and the spine’s compressive force hold the artificial disc in place with bending X-rays after the procedure displaying normal spinal motions; almost close to that of a healthy natural disc.

Expected Outcome of Disc Replacement

A patient who has undergone disc replacement is expected to have a normal spinal function. The implant allows for a great range of motion in extension/flexion, axial rotation, lateral bending and translation. Since the artificial disc comes in different sizes ranging from 14mm to 18 mm in diameter, every spinal height is achieved which means all patient heights are catered for.

Out of all surgeries done in America and parts of Europe, treatment follow ups have displayed tremendous success. Patients not only show good outcomes in their spinal motions but have no migration or significant subsidence of the implanted disc.

When all's said and done, the fact remains that artificial disc replacement is one of the best treatment option for spinal disease. It offers back pain patients a chance to live a healthy normal life without the constant worry of spinal disorders.