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Artificial Disc Replacement

What is Artificial Disk Replacement? 

Artificial disk replacement is a type of spine surgery most often used to help restore motion in patients with one or two damaged disks. A mechanical device replaces disks damaged by degenerative disease or post-laminectomy syndrome. The surgery, also known as arthroplasty, may be recommended when severe neck or arm pain does not improve after more conservative treatments, including medications and physical therapy. It was approved by the FDA in 2004 as an alternative to spinal fusion surgery that helps preserve more normal motion.

What You Can Expect at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences

The UTHealth Houston Neurosciences Spine Center brings together a multidisciplinary team of board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeons, neurologists, researchers, and pain management specialists who work together to help provide relief for even the most complex problems. People who suffer from radiculopathy, spondylosis, spinal stenosis, herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, peripheral nerve disorders, spinal cord injury, or other trauma benefit from our collaborative expertise in managing spine disorders.

Our multidisciplinary teams of specialists share insights, leading to better treatment decisions and outcomes. We first investigate nonsurgical treatment options, including medical management, pain management, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and watchful waiting. When surgery is needed, our neurosurgeons routinely employ innovative minimally invasive techniques. Throughout the treatment process, we will work closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care. While you are with us, you will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Anatomy of the neck and spine

The spine is divided into the following regions:

  • The cervical region (vertebrae C1-C7) encompasses the first seven vertebrae under the skull. Their main function is to support the weight of the head, which averages 10 pounds. The cervical vertebrae are more mobile than other areas, with the atlas and axis vertebra facilitating a wide range of motion in the neck. Openings in these vertebrae allow arteries to carry blood to the brain and permit the spinal cord to pass through. They are the thinnest and most delicate vertebrae.
  • The thoracic region (vertebrae T1-T12) is composed of 12 small bones in the upper chest. Thoracic vertebrae are the only ones that support the ribs. Muscle tension from poor posture, arthritis, and osteoporosis are common sources of pain in this region.
  • The lumbar region (vertebrae L1-L5) features vertebrae that are much larger to absorb the stress of lifting and carrying heavy objects. Injuries to the lumbar region can result in some loss of function in the hips, legs, and bladder control.
  • The sacral region (vertebrae S1-S5) includes a large bone at the bottom of the spine. The sacrum is triangular-shaped and consists of five fused bones that protect the pelvic organs.

Reasons for Artificial Disk Replacement  

Disks provide cushioning between vertebrae in the spine. Age or injury can contribute to damage that causes pain, weakness, and numbness. Often, physical therapy and other treatments help alleviate the pain. But when serious discomfort persists, an artificial disk may be an option to support the vertebrae, while still allowing a wide range of motion. The procedure is typically considered for patients when only one or two vertebrae are affected, when there is no joint disease, and when there is no bony compression on spinal nerves. MRI, CT scans, and X-rays can be used to determine good candidates for disk replacement surgery.

Unlike a spinal fusion, an artificial disk replacement should allow more motion to be preserved. Patients can typically return to activity faster after this procedure than fusions because they do not have to wait for the bones to grow into a solid mass.

What to expect during surgery and recovery

Surgery will typically take two or three hours. While the patient is under general anesthesia, the neurosurgeon makes an incision to access the spine. Tiny instruments are used to remove the damaged disk and to implant the mechanical device in its place. The surgery typically requires a hospital of two to four nights for monitoring and to treat pain.

Patients are encouraged to begin walking in the hospital as soon as they recover from anesthesia, and to increase their activity level gradually. Outpatient physical therapy or self-directed rehabilitation may be recommended. Most patients return to regular activity levels within eight weeks. Your surgeon will give you specific information related to your condition and lifestyle goals, as well as a detailed description of the surgery and instructions on how to make the best recovery.

Spine Disease and Back Pain

Contact Us

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8100, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.