Chronic back pain will affect 80-90% of people at some point in their lives. Almost 2% of our country’s workforce deals with debilitating back pain. Many conditions can cause pain and require surgery.
When your pain becomes so severe that you cant control it with conservative treatments, you’ll need to be evaluated by a spine surgeon.
Spinal surgery has advanced a lot in the last few years, including FDA improved devices that can replace damaged spinal disks.
But the conditions that disk replacement surgery can treat are limited by a variety of factors. To learn more about artificial disk replacement and whether or not you would be a good candidate, read on.
What is Artificial Disk Replacement?
Before we talk about what makes a person a good candidate for this surgery, you should understand exactly what this surgery is.
Artificial disk replacement surgery is when worn or damaged disk material between the small bones in your spine are removed and replaced with synthetic or artificial disks. The goal of this procedure is to relieve back pain and maintain normal motion.
In other procedures, like spinal fusion, your movement would be much more limited.
Although many people will deal with low back pain in their lives, most people won’t need surgery to correct it. Surgery is only considered when back pain doesn’t improve with treatment.
For patients who have tried all nonsurgical options and are still in pain, lumbar fusion surgery is the most common option for treating lower back pain. Fusion is pretty much what it sounds like, a “welding” process that fuses the painful vertebrae together so they heal in a single, solid bone.
Lumbar fusion helps many people, but the results vary. Also, some people who heal in the most ideal way still have no improvement in their back pain.
Some doctors believe that this is due to the fact that fusion prevents normal motion in the spine. Because of this, artificial disk replacement has come forward as an alternative treatment option.
Artifical disk replacement gained FDA approval in 2004 and over the past years, scientists discovered new designs that are being developed today.
Who is a Good Candidate for Artifical Disk Replacement?
In order to make sure you are the best possible candidate for disk replacement, your surgeon might want you to go through a few tests. Some of these tests include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans
- Computed tomography (CT) scans
The information they learn from these tests will help your surgeon determine whether or not you’re a good candidate for the surgery as well as pinpointing the source of your back pain.
As beneficial as this surgery is for many, it is not appropriate for everyone with low back pain. For the most part, good candidates have a few characteristics in common. They are:
- Back pain caused by one or two intervertebral disks in the lumbar spine
- No significant facet joint disease
- No bony compression on spinal nerves
- Not excessively overweight
- No major surgery has been performed on the lumbar pine before
- No deformity of the spine, like scoliosis
As long as you meet these criteria, and are in otherwise good health, you should qualify for the surgery.
For the most part, artificial disk replacement surgery will take between 2 and 3 hours.
Your surgeon will approach your lower back from the front through an incision in your abdomen. This way, the organs and blood vessels must move to the side, but it also allows your surgeon to access your spine without disturbing the nerves.
Typically, a vascular surgeon will assist the orthopedic surgeon with opening and exposing the disk space.
During the procedure, the surgeon will take your problematic disk out and insert an artificial disk into that space.
Artificial Disk Design
Some disk replacement devices make up the center of the intervertebral disk while leaving the outer ring in place, but this technology is still in the investigative process.
Mostly, the artificial disk will replace the outer ring and the center with a mechanical device that will stimulate the spine to function.
There are a bunch of different disk designs, all of them unique but maintaining a similar goal of reproducing the size and function of a normal disk.
There are disks made of metal and some made of metal and plastic both. This is similar to joint replacements in the knee and hip. These disks are made with medical grade plastic and medical grade cobalt chromium or titanium alloy.
Make sure you and your surgeon decide what disk is best for you.
For the most part, patients stay in the hospital for 1 to 3 days after the surgery. The length of your stay depends on how well controlled your pain is and whether or not you can function.
Patients are encouraged to stand and walk the day after surgery. With artificial disk replacement, bone healing isn’t required after the replacement, so usually, patients are encouraged to move in their midsection too. Early motion in this area can lead to faster recovery.
You will perform your basic routine during the first several weeks after surgery, just make sure you don’t hyperextend your back.
For the most part, patients can expect improvement of lower back pain in weeks or months after surgery.
This procedure will improve, but not completely eliminate, back pain. Make sure you have realistic expectations before going into surgery
Artificial Disk Replacement Research on the Horizon
The future of this procedure will likely have advancements in implant design and tools for diagnosing pain sources. It’ll also include ways to return the disk to normal function without needing to add any biomechanical device.
Artificial disk replacement isn’t considered a new technology, but the research continues on the outcomes of the procedure.
If you think you would be a good candidate for this procedure, visit us today to learn more.