Disc replacement can be a good alternative to spinal fusion for select patients with degenerative disc disease or following a discectomy.

The procedure involves replacing a patient’s damaged vertebral disc with an artificial one.

The goal of the treatment is to relieve back pain and provide stability without limiting the patient’s range of motion following the procedure. It can be performed on the cervical (upper) or lumbar (lower) spine.

In this procedure, the surgeon accesses the spine through an incision in the front of the body and removes all or part of the degenerated disc. They create space between the vertebrae of the affected level in order to restore height and decompress nerves. Then, the metal end plates of the artificial disc are secured onto the vertebrae and a nucleus from artificial material is inserted between them.

Who is a good candidate for artificial disc replacement?

Disc replacement surgery is generally recommended for patients who have back pain originating from disc damage at one vertebral level, who do not respond to conservative treatment even after a long period of time, and who have relatively healthy spines aside from the damaged discs. Because this procedure does not provide as much stability as spinal fusion, it is especially important that the patients do not have any other medical conditions affecting the strength or stability of their spine before undergoing disc replacement surgery.

Patients are not good candidates for the procedure if they have any other conditions affecting bone strength or spine stability, including osteoporosis, spondylolisthesis, scoliosis, spinal tumors, spinal fractures, if they have had a previous spinal fusion or if they are obese. Only a medical professional can determine if you are a good candidate for disc replacement surgery.

If you do not meet the criteria for artificial disc replacement, spinal fusion may still be a good option for you.

Risks and considerations

Artificial disc replacement has many similar risks as other spinal surgeries, including nerve damage, bleeding and the risks associated with anesthesia. Improper positioning of the implant can lead to the device migrating, which can cause problems later on and may require another surgery to correct. This makes it especially important to only receive this procedure from an experienced spine specialist.

However, compared to other surgeries, the risk of infection after undergoing artificial disc replacement is quite low. And although there are few studies on the long-term effectiveness of the procedure, early trials suggest the device does not easily wear out and rarely needs to be replaced in the first 10-20 years after it is implanted.

Disc replacement surgery in Germany

The first artificial disc was developed by a German surgeon in the 1980s. The technology has improved significantly over the years since its invention, and today there are many different types of artificial discs on the market.

German doctors have been leading the way in researching and implementing this relatively new procedure. The procedure is not yet widely available worldwide, but it is currently available in several spinal centers in Germany, including clinics in the Premier Healthcare Germany network.

Disc replacement surgery should only be performed on ideal patients by an expert surgeon. Premier Healthcare Germany can put you in contact with some of Germany’s leading spine specialists to determine which treatment options are best for you. Contact us for more information.