If you’re experiencing back pain, and your doctor confirms you have either damaged or diseased discs, you may need a total disc replacement to regain normal function, mobility, and movement along your spine. Total disc replacement is a relatively new approach, used in many instances where doctors previously would have performed a spinal fusion. With a successful disc replacement, however, you typically don’t have the damage to adjacent discs that often accompanies a spinal fusion.
With total disc replacement, the surgeon removes the damaged or diseased disc and inserts an artificial one in its place. The procedure is necessarily done under general anesthesia. Surprisingly, though, the surgeon accesses the spine through an incision near the bellybutton, with you positioned on your back. The disc implant has metal plates on each end and a polyethylene core.
The usual hospital stay associated with a total disc replacement is approximately two to four days, depending on how quickly you recover. Most patients are able to stand and even walk within 24 hours of surgery. Doctors customarily recommend that a corset or brace be worn for a few weeks. You’ll also be prescribed a gentle regimen of stretching and physical therapy, though you need to be careful immediately after surgery not to hyperextend the vertebrae.
As with any type of invasive surgery, there’s a risk of infection with a total disc replacement. In addition, it’s not uncommon for blood vessels or nerves to be damaged during the procedure. Though it’s rare, the implant can \ become dislocated or may be subject to wear and tear that compromises its effectiveness. Though most patients who have a total disc replacement experience less pain and greater mobility and function, the disc replacement may not eliminate all discomfort.