Orange County Neurosurgery

What is Spinal Disc Replacement?

Patients who don’t want the immobilization spinal fusion surgery brings may opt to have spinal disc replacement surgery instead. The problem with immobilizing the spine is that the nerves and tissues in and around the spinal cord can get damaged over time. Instead of fusing bones together to eliminate movement between two vertebrae, the degenerating spinal disc is replaced with a prosthetic. The prosthetic discs used in this procedure are often made out of metal, plastic, or ceramic with hydrogel inside them.

This type of surgical implantation procedure is a great alternative to the more permanent fusion surgeries, but it is still a major surgical procedure. Doctors often recommend surgery as a last resort if medication and physical therapy do not work to relieve the symptoms of degenerative disc disease.

Ideal Candidates for Spinal Disc Replacement

While most patients would prefer this procedure over stabilizing the spine to treat the symptoms of degenerative disc disease, not everyone is a good candidate for the procedure. The first thing a surgeon looks at even before considering this procedure as a treatment option for the pain is their medical history. Patients who have their vertebral discs replaced with prosthetics should have enough bone strength to support the implants or else the surgery will do more harm than good. The next thing surgeons will do is to check to see if traditional non-surgical treatment methods have failed to bring relief. Unless the pain and the symptoms are getting progressively worse over a short period of time, most surgeons would recommend holding off on surgery treating the symptoms with medication and special exercises first before considering surgery.

How This Procedure is Done

Spinal disc replacement usually takes several hours to complete depending on the number of discs that need to be replaced and how badly damaged they are. The surgical techniques used in this type of procedure vary depending on the location of the affected discs. The approach and techniques used by surgeons for replacing discs in the cervical spine (neck area) is different from the thoracic spine (middle area) and lumbar spine (lower back area).

Patients are usually positioned facing up and the incisions are done in the front for easier access to the discs. The muscles, tissues and internal organs are retracted to clear the way to the spine and avoid damaging them during surgery. X-ray images and fluoroscopy is used to pinpoint the discs that need to be replaced. Once the surgeon spots the discs, they are slowly and gently removed from the space in between the two vertebrae. The next step would be to clean out the gap where the disc used to be and the prosthetic discs are put in their place.

When the surgeon finishes replacing all the deteriorating discs, the surgeon then removes the retractors and closes up the incisions made. Extra care is needed when performing this procedure on the cervical spine. The surgeon needs to get past muscles, arteries, veins, and organs in order to get to the spine.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of degenerative disc disease and you want to know if you’re a candidate for this surgery, call us today to schedule a consultation with one of our respected surgeons.

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