Lumbar disc replacement is an exciting new option in spine surgery and, for certain patients, can be a good alternative to the traditional fusion technique. Implanting the artificial disc stabilizes the spine and preserves motion and function in the lower back. In addition, it may have the advantage of creating less stress on the remaining vertebrae.
Who is a good candidate for this procedure?
Lumbar disc replacement is emerging as a viable treatment option for select patients with certain types of low back pain. However, it is not for everyone. Currently, the procedure is performed in carefully chosen patients whose pain has failed to respond to conservative treatment such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, corticosteroids, epidural injections or physical therapy.
A surgeon who is trained in both spine fusion techniques and disc replacement technology is the best person to determine the most appropriate surgical option for you. In addition to a physical exam and medical history, your doctor may perform tests such as MRI, discography, CT scan and X-ray to verify the source of your pain and decide if you are a good candidate for lumbar disc replacement surgery.
The lumbar spine, or low back, includes the five largest and strongest vertebrae. Between each vertebra is a gel-filled disc that acts as a shock absorber, providing a cushioning effect to absorb pressure and distribute stress. If this disc is ruptured or not working properly due to degeneration, it can put pressure on the surrounding nerves and cause pain.
When is surgery recommended?
If you have worsening low back pain from a damaged or degenerated disc that limits your everyday activities, and all non-surgical methods of treatment have failed, you should consider surgery.
The type of surgery you have depends on many factors including your overall health, the location and severity of your lumbar disc disease, and your pain and disability. It is very important that you are carefully screened by a surgeon who is trained in all types of spine procedures, including fusion and disc replacement, to decide the best course of action for you.
What is the recovery time?
Because lumbar disc replacement avoids spinal fusion, it may result in a faster recovery. Patients are encouraged to stand and walk within the first day. Most patients are able to go home from the hospital within one to two days.
A lumbar disk replacement generally improves pain, but may not eliminate it completely. It is important to discuss expectations with your surgeon. Full recovery ranges from a few weeks to a few months. However, as with all surgical procedures, specific recovery time varies by patient and demand.