Patients who endure chronic neck and back pain have a decision to make. Assuming that the doctor has diagnosed and contributed their pain to a degenerated disc in the back or neck, and assuming the patient decided they can no longer live with the pain, they will then have to make another decision. Which treatment option is best for their condition? Artificial disc replacement or spinal fusion?
Anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy and acupuncture, though viable treatment options don’t work for every patient. Once non-invasive treatment options are exhausted and when pain ensues and a patient’s movement is impaired, he or she may turn to surgery. It is the last option. However, there are two types of surgery that will address a patient’s neck and back issues. Artificial disc replacement surgery or spinal fusion are options from which the patient must choose.
Spinal fusion surgery fuses two or more vertebral bones together. A patient will undergo spinal fusion for one of a few reasons. If the patient has incurred a facture of the spine, then a surgeon will correct the fracture by fusing the affected bones. Also, spinal fusions are performed on patients with severe disc degeneration or those who’ve experienced a slipped vertebrae or curvature of the spine (aka, scoliosis). Additionally, if the spine has been compromised by cancer or a spinal tumor, spinal fusion might be employed.
Before agreeing to a spinal fusion, it’s important to understand that fusion is permanent. Once the vertebrae are fused, there’s no movement between the fused bones. Fusion can cause further problems, too. Yes, it will fix the immediate problem, but it could also cause stress to neighboring vertebrae and further increase degeneration over time.
Artificial Disc Replacement
Surgery to replace a degenerative disc is referred to as total disc – or artificial disc – replacement. A patient will undergo an ADR when it is necessary to replace a degenerative disc. Completely replacing the disc eliminates the pain associated with the diseased or stressed disc. It is also performed so that the patient’s range of motion is returned.
How Artificial Disc Replacement Compares to Spinal Fusion
Remember that spinal fusion inhibits movement of the vertebrae that are fused together. In other words, spinal fusion lessens the patient’s range of motion rather than increases it. As mentioned above, spinal fusion also places stress on vertebrae that are adjacent to the fused ones. These facts should be considered when deciding which procedure is best for you.
Disc replacement surgery is advantageous for patients whose spine has significant disc degeneration or are affected by disc degeneration disorders. Your surgeon could encourage disc replacement surgery rather than spinal fusion because it causes less stress on the spine while allowing the patient to restore their range of motion. Also, ADR surgery causes less discomfort and the recovery time is shorter than spinal fusion.
Who should have ADR?
The advantages of disc replacement surgery are many, however, this doesn’t mean that everyone is a candidate for the surgery. Some patients are better suited for spinal fusion. A patient who is in poor health and has poor health habits should avoid having disc replacement surgery. Smokers, for instance, aren’t good candidates for artificial disc replacement surgery because their bones don’t heal as quickly and the bonding required with an artificial disc could be compromised.
Diabetics and obese persons are at greater risk if they choose the ADR surgery and should speak candidly with their surgeon concerning those risks. A spinal fusion could be the best alternative for persons with these and other risk factors.
Address Chronic Pain
Patients experiencing pain due to disc degeneration have options. Two viable options are spinal fusion and artificial disc replacement surgery. Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery has the answers to your questions regarding degenerative discs and how to address them. Contact us for an appointment to connect with the professionals at The Colorado Artificial Disc Institute.