What to Expect After Artificial Disc Replacement

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There are times when a body part is so worn down that replacement is your best option, which can be true of your spinal discs. Whether the problem disc is in your neck or in your lower back, here’s a look at life after artificial disc replacement.

You’ve been struggling with life-altering symptoms that stem from a problem in your neck or lower back, and you’re hoping artificial disc replacement can resolve them. As you look ahead toward a brighter future that includes more freedom of movement, you want to know what the more immediate future holds for you after the surgery.

Dr. Ali H. Mesiwala is a board-certified neurosurgeon who has been performing artificial disc replacement surgeries since shortly after the procedure’s approval by the FDA in 2004. As a result, he and our team have almost 20 years of experience helping patients navigate every step of the spine surgery journey, which puts us in a great position to explain to you what you might expect.

There are two types of artificial disc replacement surgery that we perform — cervical and lumbar — and we take a look at recovering from each here.

Cervical disc replacement

If we’re replacing a damaged disc in your neck with an artificial one, we go in through the front of your neck using only small 1- to 1½-inch incisions. This anterior approach means there’s a lower risk of collateral damage, especially to the bones and muscles around your spine. For the neck, by utilizing an anterior approach we spare cutting through the postural muscles of our spine which are located along the back side of the neck which translates to reduced post-operative pain levels. 

Whenever possible, we perform the cervical artificial disc replacement procedure on an outpatient basis, which means you’re free to go home on the same day. We do use general anesthesia, so you may be a little groggy for the rest of the day, and you should arrange for someone to drive you and stay with you when you get back home.

During your preoperative visit we will review all of your after surgery care instructions including what your recovery timeline looks like and what to expect during that time. 

In terms of your activity level we encourage our patients to use basic spine precautions such as reduced bending, lifting and twisting. There is no brace or soft collar necessary after your surgery unless specified. You can ambulate normally after your surgery. Around 2 weeks after surgery you should be able to return to activities unrestricted - of course we will monitor your entire recovery process. 

As the incision sites heal and the spine adjusts to the artificial disc, you should realize your results within a few weeks, namely more pain-free movement and reduced radiculopathy.

Lumbar disc replacement

Lumbar disc replacement is similar to cervical replacement surgery, and we perform this one on an outpatients basis, as well. Another similarity is that we use an anterior approach and go in through your abdomen, which allows us to preserve bone and muscle around your spine and similarly to the neck we spare cutting the postural muscles of the lower back and that means reduced pain after surgery. 

While we’re only making small incisions (approximatley 2-3 inches) to replace your lumbar disc, these incisions will take 2-4 weeks to heal, thanks to their location in your abdomen. So, we encourage you to move around after your lumbar disc replacement, but you’ll need to steer clear of activities that extend your abdomen (think of swinging a racket or golf club up high). We recommend no excessive BLT - bending, lifting and/or twisting. 

Just like patients who undergo cervical disc replacement, there is no brace necessary after surgery. Once the incision is healed and the disc is integrated, approximately 4 weeks, patients can return to an unrestricted lifestyle. 

A word about physical therapy

We recommend that you have physical therapy (PT) after your disc replacement surgery. We work with your physical therapists on a timeline and what areas to focus on, and they do the rest. 

With PT, we’ve found that patients recover more quickly thanks to the targeted exercises that promote strength and mobility in the spine.

We can initiate a physical therapy plan approximately 2 and 4 weeks after surgery for cervical and lumbar disc replacement, respectively. 

Long-term results

When it comes to long-term results of your disc replacement surgery, we’d like to draw your attention to the 2021 Position Statement From the International Society for the Advancement of Spine Surgery. After conducting a meta analysis, the society concluded that they not only support the use of artificial discs, but that, “Studies now following patients out to 5 to 10 years continue to show positive results for these devices.” 

Dr. Ali H. Mesiwala has been performing this operation routinely for over 15 years and has been on the forefront of performing these procedures in the ambulatory surgery center. The goal is for patients to return to unrestricted and normal lifestyles. Within our experience we have reproducible results and post operative outcomes for our patients.

In other words, the future looks bright after disc replacement surgery.

If you have more questions about what to expect after disc replacement surgery, please contact one of our offices in Newport Beach, Marina del Rey, or Rancho Cucamonga, California, to schedule a consultation.