A Lumbar Disc Replacement is an exciting alternative to the traditional lumbar fusion. This innovative and minimally invasive technique removes a degenerative disc in your lumbar spine causing pain and replaces it with an artificial disc. Discs are the soft tissue cushions in your spine that allow for motion. Sometimes they can degenerate due to surrounding stress and disc material may bulge or sometimes they wear down due to aging of the spine causing compression of the nerves or back pain. This surgical procedure removes the painful disc and replaces it with an implant that allows for motion and decreases stress on the disc at the next level.
The spine consists of bones stacked on top of discs. The discs are the shock absorbers of our spine that allow for motion. As we age or experience injury these discs may degenerate. Cracks and tears within the disc form and sometimes disc material protrudes irritating surrounding structures causing pain, numbness, or tingling. Lumbar disc replacement is a surgical procedure where this damaged disc is removed and replaced with an artificial disc that is tailored to the patient.
A minimally invasive approach is used to access your lumbar disc in front of the spine. The (or Your) surgeon will remove the degenerative disc to prepare for the artificial disc implant. The/ Your surgeon will measure and choose the appropriately sized implant that best fits your spinal anatomy.
Both lumbar disc replacement and spinal fusion are both great options to treat your condition. However, with spinal fusion, your bones will heal together as opposed to the artificial disc which allows you to maintain motion and decrease stress at the next disc level.
Lumbar Disc Replacement helps maintain motion. In some spinal conditions, there is too much motion which is called spondylolisthesis. This can cause back pain and nerve symptoms. In this setting, a disc replacement is not the best option to treat this conditions.
Patients have a quick recovery since this procedure is performed in a minimally invasive fashion. Often, they spend 1-2 days in the hospital and then are discharged home. Patients are able to start physical therapy in the next few weeks to get them back to a comfortable routine.
Yes, often recovery after surgery is supplemented with physical therapy to focus on core strengthening and stabilization. Preoperative pain leaves patients typically de-conditioned and weak. Therapy allows the patient to return to their quality of life quickly by strengthening and stabilizing surrounding musculature.
Often patients do use post-operative pain medication. We, at the Virginia Spine Institute, discuss what medication regimen works best for you. We will discuss a post-operative plan with the goal to taper off medications as quickly and safely as possible.
Typically, patients do need some time off to recover and focus on healing. We monitor your progress and will guide you when you are ready to get back to work. Many patients are able to return to work pretty soon if they are able to have modified duties.
Reviewed by: Dr. Christopher Good, MD, FACS.