Spinal discs are the soft, cushioning, shock-absorbing structures located between each individual vertebra of the spine.
Constructed of fibrocartilaginous tissue, each spinal disc consists of a hard outer ring that provides strength and support and an inner, softer core that provides elasticity.
Age, genetics, and wear-and-tear contribute to damage and degeneration of the discs. When a disc deteriorates and ruptures, the outer ring bulges outward and the soft inner core leaks, irritating nearby nerves and putting pressure on the spinal cord. The result is inflammation, pain, nerve impingement, and neurological symptoms like numbness or tingling in the arms or legs.
Degenerative disc disease affects almost half of the US population over the age of 40. Initially, it is treated with conservative, nonoperative methods like bed rest, pain management, and physical therapy. If these methods fail, surgery – usually fusion surgery – may be recommended during which the damaged disc is removed, and small pieces of the patient’s own bone are used to fuse the vertebrae on either side of the former disc together. This enhances stability and strength and reduces pain.
Fusion surgery places more load and stress on the vertebrae above and below the fused area. Up to 30 percent of discs above or below the site of surgery wear out within 10 years and require surgery themselves. Multiple fusion surgeries up and down the “ladder” of the spine may be required over the years.
The alternative to fusion surgery is to replace the removed spinal disc with a structure that would retain the spine’s mobility and share the load exerted on the spine. That is where artificial discs come in.
What is an Artificial Spinal Disc?
Artificial discs are manufactured to resemble and function like healthy human spinal discs. They are designed to fit into the original disc space, replacing the entire disc, to allow movement, flexibility, and absorb impact to the spine.
There are several types of artificial discs. The discs are made of a combination of hard (stainless steel or titanium) and soft (polyethylene, or polymer fibers) surgical grade materials. The type of artificial disc to be used depends on the cause of the back or leg pain, the severity of the problem, and the training and preference of the surgeon.
Benefits of Artificial Disc Replacement
Patients with severe cervical or spinal degenerative disc disease – especially if spinal cord compression is present – can benefit from artificial discs. Not all patients are suitable candidates for the surgery, and each case needs to be assessed on its own merits.
Artificial disc replacement is reversible and is a viable option that avoids the disadvantages of fusion surgery such as limited motion and flexibility, a longer post-surgery recovery period, and the need for additional surgeries in the future. Artificial discs reduce damage to adjacent discs and joints, preserve motion, distribute the stress load along the spine, and restore disc height.
Artificial spinal discs promise a new and better treatment option for degenerative disc conditions.
Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery provides advanced microsurgical treatments for a wide variety of neurological conditions. They are experts in both surgical and nonsurgical treatment of intracranial and spinal disorders. Call (303) 790-1800 to request an appointment today.