An artificial disc replacement reduces neck or lower back pain and preserves motion in the spine. During the procedure, a spine surgeon completely removes the disc that is causing symptoms and places an artificial disc in the newly vacant space. While artificial disc replacement is an outpatient surgical procedure, it may require 4 – 8 weeks of recovery. Therefore, we discuss the risks and benefits of the surgery and how long an artificial disc replacement lasts to help you make an informed decision.
Artificial disc replacement solves chronic neck and low back pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness caused by a diseased or damaged spinal disc. One of the most common problems solved by artificial disc replacement is a slipped disc, also known as a herniated disc. The surgery may also be used to treat degenerative disc disease.
Every surgical procedure is associated with certain risks, and patients should be aware of the potential complications of an artificial disc replacement.
Some risks related to artificial disc replacement surgery are the same as they would be in any spine surgery or surgery in general. Artificial disc replacement surgery may lead to:
Scar – Patients will be left with a small surgical scar where the incision is made (common)
Pain – Virtually all patients experience discomfort during recovery from ADR, but a small portion of patients experience moderate or severe pain (uncommon)
Bleeding – A small amount of bleeding is expected, but a large amount of bleeding is an unexpected complication (rare)
Skin infection –– The area around the surgical incision may become infected and require antibiotic treatment (rare)
Pneumonia – Some patients may develop an infection in the lungs that requires antibiotic treatment (rare)
Blood clot – Some patients may develop a blood clot in the legs that requires treatment in a hospital (very rare)
Problems with anesthesia – Some patients are unable to tolerate general anesthesia and require treatment (extremely rare)
Ongoing pain – Some patients may not achieve the amount of pain relief they were expecting from ADR (uncommon)
Incorrect implant size – The artificial disc is too big or too small for the patient’s spine requiring additional surgery (uncommon)
Implant infection – The area around the device may become infected and require antibiotic treatment or device removal (rare)
Allergic reaction – Some patients may find that they are allergic to the artificial disc, which requires treatment or device removal (rare)
Implant migration – The device may move from its intended position, which may require additional surgery to correct (rare)
Heterotopic ossification – A substance similar to bone grows in unusual places around the spine (rare)
Implant failure – The device may break and require additional surgery (very rare with newer devices)
Improper placement – The artificial disc is not in the right alignment with the surrounding spinal bones, which may require additional surgery to correct (very rare, especially when surgery is performed by an experienced ADR spine surgeon)
The risk of some artificial disc replacement complications can be reduced by certain actions you take before and after surgery. You may reduce your risk of artificial disc replacement complications by:
Share your full medical history – Tell your doctor if you have had pneumonia, blood clots, skin infections or negative reactions to anesthesia or if you have allergies
Stop smoking – Smoking not only increases the risk for complications during artificial disc replacement surgery, but interferes with spine healing
Reach and maintain a healthy body weight – It can be tough to exercise with chronic neck or low back pain but do what you can tolerate. A proper diet can help you achieve weight loss goals. Your spine surgeon may be able to prescribe medications to help you lose weight safely.
Take your medications as prescribed – Ask your doctor how to take your medications around the time of surgery. Some may need to be stopped in the weeks before surgery and others may need to be continued. After artificial disc replacement, make sure to take your pain medication only as prescribed. If you are struggling with pain after surgery, talk to your doctor.
Follow all your discharge instructions – It can be difficult to abide by all of the activity restrictions after surgery. However, pushing yourself too hard, too quickly can cause many serious complications.
Do all your physical therapy exercises – Stretching and strengthening your muscles is one of the best ways to recover after artificial disc replacement and to prevent injury.
The vast majority of patients—as high as 93%—are satisfied with disc replacement surgery. Over 70% of patients have substantially less pain and improved function.
Modern artificial disc devices are designed to last 40, 50, even 70 years.
Yes, an artificial disc can fail. Device failure with newer artificial discs is rare. The device is designed to withstand substantial wear-and-tear for decades, but it is possible to have a device failure. Clinical failure is more common than device failure (though still uncommon). If a patient does not enjoy at least a 50% reduction in pain or needs a revision surgery at, above, or below the treated spine level, it is considered a clinical failure.
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