What Happens During Disc Replacement Arthroplasty?

What Happens During Disc Replacement Arthroplasty?

Disc problems are a common cause of pain in the lower back and (less commonly) the neck — the two most flexible parts of your spine. While some temporary disc issues resolve with conservative care, other problems require a surgical approach to achieve long-term symptom relief. 

A leading back pain specialist and orthopedic spine surgeon, Kenneth I. Light, MD, has extensive experience in disc replacement arthroplasty, a minimally invasive surgery that’s very effective in alleviating disc-related pain. If you have chronic disc problems due to low back pain or neck pain, here’s what you should know about this state-of-the-art procedure.

Disc health 101

Discs are tough, spongy structures that separate the vertebrae in your spine. Acting like tiny shock absorbers, healthy discs help protect your spine from impact, and they also support flexibility and movement in your spine. The spaces created by the discs make room for nerves as they exit the spinal column and travel to every other area of your body.

Normally, the edges of each disc are contained within the borders of the vertebrae. But sometimes, a disc slips out of place and extends beyond this border, where the edge of the disc can be pinched or even torn by the bones as you move. This is a herniated disc, and it can cause localized pain as well as pain or numbness anywhere along the affected nerve.

Degenerative disc disease becomes more common with age — it happens when the discs naturally lose some of their moisture and plumpness. The space between each pair of vertebrae narrows, leading to pinched nerves and chronic pain. 

Both herniated discs and degenerative disc disease may respond to conservative treatments initially, but surgery may be needed eventually to provide lasting, meaningful relief. That’s when disc replacement arthroplasty can help.

The disc replacement procedure

As the name implies, disc replacement surgery involves removing a damaged disc and replacing it with an artificial disc. Replacement discs are designed to function like a natural disc, keeping your spine flexible and maintaining optimal vertebral space for your nerves.

Dr. Light uses a very small incision to access the damaged disc during disc arthroplasty. He gently separates the vertebrae to remove the disc, and he then affixes end plates to each vertebrae to create new joint surfaces that ensure smooth movement in the disc space.

Once the plates are in place, Dr. Light inserts the appropriately sized artificial disc between the two vertebrae. He confirms the disc placement using special imaging, and then he closes the incision.

Recovering from arthroplasty

Arthroplasty is a minimally invasive procedure, a type of surgery that’s associated with faster healing and recovery. The small incisions mean very little tissue damage, so you can also expect less postoperative discomfort.

Most patients can resume light activities within a week or two of their surgery, slowly increasing their activity as their back heals. Physical therapy can play an important role in healing, helping you get back to your regular routine while improving spine strength and flexibility.

The speed of your recovery depends in part on the extent of your disc damage and your health prior to surgery. Most men and women can expect a complete recovery within about 12 weeks.

Find out if arthroplasty is right for you

Disc replacement can be a good choice for many people who have chronic back or neck pain that’s directly related to problems caused by a damaged disc. To learn more about arthroplasty, book an appointment with Dr. Light by calling our office in San Leandro, California, today.

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