You have a diseased disc in your neck or in your lower back and this one, seemingly small, problem has hijacked your life. From considerable localized pain to symptoms that are radiating into your arm or leg, your level of discomfort is at an all-time high and you want long-term solutions.
Here at Texas Spine Consultants, our team of spine health experts, which includes Michael Hennessy, MD, Chester Donnally, MD, Heidi Lee, MD, Andrew Park, MD, and Robert Viere, MD, has extensive experience helping our patients to restore their quality of life through spine surgery.
Here, we’re going to look at two surgeries that address degenerative disc disease (DDD) and diseased discs — spinal fusion and artificial disc replacement — and why more people are turning to the latter.
When a disc goes bad
Your spine consists of 33 vertebrae that are stacked on top of each other from your pelvis to the base of your skull. To provide movement and shock absorption along this boney structure, your spine also contains 23 intervertebral discs.
Each of these discs features a tough, fibrous outer layer (annulus) that houses a jelly-like substance on the inside, which is called the nucleus pulposus.
Over time, these discs can succumb to wear-and-tear and aging, rendering them more brittle, flatter, and prone to leakage. When these degenerative changes occur, nearby nerve roots can become pinched or irritated, which can lead to symptoms that depend upon which nerves are affected — those in your neck can radiate into your upper extremities and those in your lower back affect your lower extremities. As a result, you can be left with:
- Local lower back or neck pain
- Numbness and tingling in a hand or foot
- Pain down into the shoulder and arm
- Pain down into a buttock and leg
The more the nerve is compressed, the more severe the symptoms become and you can even experience weakness in an upper or lower extremity.
Getting rid of the disc
If the problem is advanced and you've exhausted conservative efforts. It may be time to consider a surgical solution in which we get rid of the problematic disc. And there are two ways in which we go about this:
With this approach, we remove the diseased disc and fuse the two vertebrae together.
After we remove the damaged disc, we replace it with an artificial one.
Advantages of replacement over fusion
Now let’s get to the title of this blog about the advantages of disc replacement over spinal fusion.
FIrst, with a disc replacement, we’re able to preserve movement in your spine, which we can’t do with spinal fusion. When we fuse your vertebrae together, we make one long vertebra that will rob you of some range of motion in your lower back or neck.
With an artificial disc, we use a device that mimics your natural disc in terms of creating space between vertebrae and allowing movement between the bones,
Another advantage of an artificial disc over fusion is avoiding adjacent disc degeneration. When we fuse two vertebrae together, we create more pressure on the discs above and below the fusion. As a result, adjacent segment degeneration is a common complication after spinal fusion, affecting up to 49% of patients.
When we replace your diseased disc with an artificial one, we avoid this complication since we’re maintaining the status quo on disc workloads.
Of course, fusion still very much has its place, especially if you have advanced degeneration in your spine and more than one disc is diseased.
To figure out which option is better for you, we invite you to meet with one of our specialists. To get started, please contact one of our offices in Addison or Plano, Texas, to schedule an appointment.