Are you a first responder or serve in the military (Thank you for your service!)? Are you an active person that suddenly has been experiencing disabling neck or back pain? Perhaps you are someone that is suffering from severe “nerve-like pain” in the arms or legs? If this resonates with you then you need to know more about Disc Arthroplasty a.k.a Artificial Disc Replacement.
Despite popular belief, Disc replacement is not a new treatment, though it is certainly a life-changing one. To better understand the value of the artificial disc and how it works you’ll need to know some basics.
Artificial disc used during replacement, side view.
The spine is made of several components:
1. The bones (vertebrae) Each bone is numbered so we know what level we are talking about when there is a problem in the spine.
2. The discs. The discs are cartilage pads positioned between the bones. The discs essentially work as shock absorbers and provide some stability to the spine. Normal healthy discs allow for mobility.
3. The spinal cord and nerves. Behind the body of the vertebrae and discs is the canal that houses the spinal cord. Branching off of the spinal cord are nerve roots. The nerve roots of the Cervical spine (neck) supply the arms; those of the Thoracic spine (mid-back) supply the trunk; and those of the lumbar spine (lower back) supply the legs.
Degeneration or wearing of the discs in the spine not only cause neck and back pain but as they wear, they can cause narrowing (stenosis) or impingement of the spinal cord and/or nerve roots. The functions of the nerves are both motor and sensory. This means if there is an impairment you may interpret this problem as weakness or some type of offensive sensation most commonly described as nerve pain, numbness, tingling, burning, or an electrical type of pain in the arms or legs.
Artificial disc used in replacement, front/side view.
Historically, the most traditional treatment for a disc problem was a fusion. This involves removing the bad disc(s) in its entirety and utilizing implants and bone graft material to fuse or incorporate one vertebra with another. Even to this day, this system works as a very effective way to decompress the spinal cord/nerve roots and alleviate pain related to degeneration of the disc(s).
The problem, though, is that by fusing that portion of the spine, it becomes rigid and there is no longer any motion at the fusion site, causing the levels above and below the fusion to work overtime to compensate. You can imagine how this can lead to the degeneration of the adjacent levels and unfortunately, increase the likelihood of needing additional surgery in the future.
Finding a solution to this problem has become a catalyst for technological advancement and development to the Artificial Disc. It’s actually quite genius! The concept is this: the approach to the problem is the same, remove the bad disc(s) which decompresses the spinal cord and nerves, however, the implant is different. The artificial disc is now made of two plates that adhere to the vertebra, and between the plates is a spacer that allows for motion that mimics a normal or healthy disc.
Artificial disc used in replacement, front view.
So, to compare and contrast the benefit of artificial disc vs. fusion:
I think you’re picking up what I’m putting down. If you are someone suffering from a disc or spinal problem, then you owe yourself the opportunity to explore this as an option. I cannot tell you the number of times I have had a patient get emotional as they say to me, “I can’t keep up with my kids,” or “I’ve worked so hard, my career is depending on this!” Yet, I’m here to tell you there is hope. Please visit discreplacementcenter.com to view video testimonials of our patients that have undergone this life-changing procedure.