Disc Replacement Surgery

Disc replacement surgery completely replaces a damaged or dysfunctional intervertebral disc in the spine. Similar to knee replacement or hip replacement surgery, disc replacement surgery involves removing the natural intervertebral disc and replacing it with a prosthesis, or artificial disc.

Who can have disc replacement surgery?

Disc replacement surgery is an excellent choice for select patients. This means that disc replacement surgery is a good option if your condition and situation meet certain criteria. Your surgeon will discuss various treatment options with you; however, disc replacement surgery is best suited for people who have never had spinal surgery before, are relatively healthy, and neck or back pain is confined to a small area of the spine (e.g., one or two intervertebral discs).

What are the alternatives to disc replacement surgery?

Disc replacement surgery is a relatively new procedure. Prosthetic replacements have only been available for the past decade. The main alternative is a surgical procedure called decompression and fusion. In decompression and fusion, the damaged intervertebral discs are removed and replaced with bone grafts and the vertebrae are fused together using metal hardware. In carefully selected patients, outcomes after disc replacement are generally superior to decompression and fusion.

What are the risks of disc replacement surgery?

As with any surgery, there are certain risks to consider. Bleeding, infection, and anesthesia risks are part of almost any surgery. Specifically, disc replacement surgery is associated with prosthesis–related complications. In other words, the artificial disc may come loose, move out of position, or become infected. In these cases, a second surgical procedure is needed. Nevertheless, complication and reoperation rates are much lower with total disc replacement surgery then anterior cervical decompression and fusion, for example.