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If chronic lower back pain keeps you from fully participating in everyday life, relief may be in sight.
Although hip and knee replacements are common, artificial discs are now FDA-approved for the spine.
The artificial disc is approved to treat patients with degenerative disc disease in the lower back. Age or injury can cause the discs in the back to thin, reducing the cushion in between the vertebrae of the spine. The result is degenerative disc disease and back pain that may require medical care.
Different from spinal fusion
If patients don't respond to treatments such as physical therapy, medication and strengthening exercises, the standard treatment has recently been surgery, most often a spinal fusion.
Spinal fusion joins vertebrae together using bone grafts, metal screws and other devices, so that motion no longer occurs between them. While most patients report relief from pain after the surgery, it often robs them of flexibility and range of motion.
The goal of the artificial disc is to preserve motion. Instead of fusion, the damaged disc is removed and replaced with the new artificial disc.
Studies in the United States and other countries, where artificial discs have been used for many years, show that the discs can help:
- Decrease pain
- Preserve flexibility and range of motion.
- Restore disc height to maintain the normal curve of the spine.
- Reduce complications associated with spinal fusion surgery
The surgery and hospital stay are generally shorter than with fusion surgery, as is recovery time. Fusion surgery can require a recovery period of six to nine months. In contrast, artificial disc patients are up and active on the day of surgery, and usually return to work and normal activities within four to six weeks.
Familiar technology, new application
The artificial disc is similar to artificial joints, like those used in the hip and knee. It has three components: two metal end plates that go into the spine, and the disc itself, which is a floating core made of polyethylene. Surgeons undergo special training to learn how to implant the artificial disc.
First in Minnesota
In January 2005, Paul Hartleben, MD, performed the first artificial disc surgery in Minnesota at St. Joseph's Hospital. It is now also available at St. John's Hospital and Woodwinds Health Campus.