What is Disc Arthroplasty?
Arthroplasty, in general, refers to cutting away, or excising, a damaged or diseased joint and replacing it with prosthetic implants. Disc arthroplasty is an advanced spinal surgery procedure in which a spinal disc, the cushioning structure between the vertebrae – the bones that comprise the spine – is excised and replaced with an artificial disc.As our bodies age, the spinal discs become more brittle and less flexible, and characteristic degenerative changes can result in back and neck pain. However, many individuals with degenerative disc disease fortunately do not exhibit such symptoms. Disc arthroplasty may be performed in the upper spine , or cervical region of the spine (cervical disc replacement) or in the lower spine, or lumbar region of the spine (lumbar disc replacement).
Artificial discs are typically made of metal or plastic materials, or a combination of the two. The artificial discs used in this procedure fall into two general types: total disc replacements and nucleus disc replacements. As the names imply, in a total disc replacement, the entire intervertebral disc is removed and an artificial one is substituted, whereas only the nucleus of the disc is removed when a nucleus disc replacement is employed.This second procedure has fallen out of favor and presently is rarely performed.
Disc arthroplasty was developed as an alternative to spine fusion surgery, with the goal of reducing or eliminating pain while retaining flexion and rotation and thereby preserving motion throughout the spine. Spinal fusion eliminates independent motion of the involved vertebrae in order to stabilize the spine. Additionally, spinal fusion surgery has been found to promote degeneration of adjacent discs and vertebrae in some cases, a drawback that thus far has not been associated with disc arthroplasty. This procedure has been approved by the FDA for the relief of low back and neck pain caused by degenerative disc disease and disc herniations, and it has been approved and performed in Europe for more than 20 years. Here at New Jersey Spine Specialists, we have performed this treatment many times at our facilities in Summit, Livingston, West Orange, and Montclair with excellent results. Though indicated for only a minority of patients, it is an effective treatment option that can provide significant relief for some individuals suffering from severe pain and restricted mobility resulting from degenerative disc disease and disc herniations.