The spinal column is made up of individual vertebrae that work independently of each other, allowing us to bend and providing us with mobility. In between each of the vertebrae is a small, sponge like material that is known as the intervertebral disc. It provides additional range of motion for us, along with acting as a shock absorber for the vertebrae and keeping them from rubbing against each other. Unfortunately, there are times when problems can occur with the discs in the spine, and surgery may be necessary to correct it.
Since back problems are such a common issue, advancements have been made in recent years to the options that are available when it comes to treating a problem with your intervertebral discs. One of the options that is now available is the use of an artificial disc, which can be inserted into the area when one of your discs has become herniated or otherwise damaged. Although these artificial discs have been used in Europe for over a decade, they are just now being used in the United States.
The discs are designed to be specific to the area of the spine where they will be located, typically either in the lower back (lumbar region) or in the neck, known as the cervical region. There are a number of these disc options that are available and approved for use in the United States through the FDA. There are also other options that may be available as a clinical trial, and you should discuss that possibility with your physician.
When people have a problem with their disc that is serious enough to warrant surgery, one of the options that are often considered is fusion surgery. This type of surgery fuses two adjacent vertebrae together, helping to provide additional stability in the spinal column. It also requires the removal of the disc that has become damaged. Unfortunately, spinal fusion surgery can also cause difficulties, including the possibility that the discs below or above the fusion may become herniated.
The use of an artificial disc may be able to solve the problem by stopping the need for fusion surgery. It provides the same benefits as your natural disc, including keeping the vertebrae from touching each other and allowing for the cushioning effect that is available when your intervertebral disc is healthy. It is very similar to the technology that is used for knee replacement and hip replacement surgery but in this case, it is affecting the spine.
Although this type of surgery may be something that is available to you, you should discuss both the positive and negative aspects of it with your physician. One of the potential problems is that the artificial disc could wear out if you are young enough during the time that you are having surgery. If it should wear out, it could lead to difficulties in the possibility that you would need an additional surgery to replace it.