The adult spine is made up of 24 vertebrae that are stacked on top of each other and protected by rubbery cushions called discs in between each one. When one disc breaks, gets pushed out of place or wears out, doctors can remove and replace it with an artificial model. If a patient has experienced back trauma or a spinal condition that affected multiple vertebrae, several discs might need to be replaced at once. Experienced doctors can perform a 2-level, 3-level, or 4-level disc replacement, which is considered an off-label procedure, to address two, three, or four discs in one operation.
Dr. Todd H. Lanman, founder of the Advanced Disc Replacement Spinal Restoration Center, has the experience and qualifications to confidently handle a 3-level cervical disc replacement. He has undergone eight spine surgeries himself and knows how hard the recovery process can be. By completing a 3-level operation, patients only need to go through this experience once.
Learn more about the benefits of choosing an off label 3-level operation (and what recovery looks like) to return your cervical spine to good health.
There are two main areas of the spine where disc replacement surgery occurs: the cervical region (the neck and upper back) and the lumbar region (the lower back). Cervical disc replacement is a recommended operation for patients who have broken or worn-out discs in their neck, which can prevent them from turning their heads comfortably and can even cause arm pain the numbness. If multiple discs are affected, Dr. Lanman might recommend an off-label 3-level operation.
Before suggesting surgery, a highly-skilled specialist like leading spinal neurosurgeon, Dr. Lanman, will suggest non-invasive alternatives first. They might ask you to complete a course of physical therapy or use medication and hot and cold therapy to treat your neck pain. However, if this doesn’t work, they will look into surgical options.
Disc replacement is an increasingly popular alternative to spinal fusion because it allows patients to regain their mobility. Instead of fusing two vertebrae together (or four in the case of a 3-level operation), artificial discs allow your bones to move naturally and without pain. Dr. Lanman will talk to you about both options and whether he recommends replacement or fusion based on your current health conditions.
This operation can be performed within a few hours as an outpatient procedure. Even with three discs getting replaced, you should be able to start your recovery at home on the same day as your procedure. Of course, this also depends on the surgeon you work with. Make sure you choose someone who can work quickly and effectively to complete the operation while minimizing risk to the patient. Dr. Lanman is confident in his ability to effectively replace spinal discs while preventing infections.
There are several benefits of choosing an off-label 3-level cervical disc replacement if you experience severe neck pain. Not only can you enjoy pain relief, but there are other functional outcomes for patients. Here are a few benefits to look forward to.
While physical therapy exercises can help some people stabilize their degenerative discs, this condition only gets worse for many patients. Disc replacement is a long-term solution to stabilize your cervical spine so your discs aren’t further pushed out of place.
In more than 90% of patients, the results from the surgery will last decades. The artificial discs themselves can last up to 100 years. This could be a permanent way to regain your mobility and flexibility while reducing pain.
When a cervical disc is pushed out of place, the rest of the vertebrae adjust to accommodate this problem. This can create even more pressure on other discs – creating a domino effect known as adjacent segment disease. This condition is also common in spinal fusion if the spine is aligned in an unnatural way.
By restoring your spine to its natural state (with artificial discs) you can reduce the pressure put on your body and prevent pain in the future.
Disc replacement is one of the leading restorative operations for spinal discs. By opting for an off-label 3-level cervical disc replacement, you can reduce the chances that you will need follow-up operations compared to spinal fusion. Disc replacement is also a less invasive procedure, which means you can enjoy shorter hospital stays and faster recovery times.
A 3-level operation also allows you to complete surgery and recovery once, rather than undergoing this operation multiple times.
The main difference between fusion and disc replacement is increased mobility. Patients are able to turn their heads, look in different directions, and move comfortably again after the operation. This allows most people to return to their favorite activities after they heal from the operation.
Because 3-level cervical disc replacement is a less-invasive procedure, patients can recover faster and need less rehabilitation. Most people can complete basic tasks and return to light work within a few weeks. Many are fully recovered within three months.
While an off-label 3-level cervical disc replacement is a safe operation, every procedure comes with potential drawbacks. Here are a few things to consider before you decide to move forward with this surgery.
Infection is rare because of the small incision and modern medical practices, but it can occur. Patients might notice swelling or bleeding at the incision site and could eventually need to start a course of antibiotics. In the long run, patients may experience nerve damage as a side effect, which leads to muscle weakness, numbness, and tingling in the neck, arms, and hands.
Artificial discs may contain metal (cobalt chromium or titanium alloy) or medical-grade plastic. Some patients have an allergic reaction to the discs and need to have them removed. Your doctor will ask about any known allergies before approving you for this operation. Dr. Lanman will also do a blood test for metal allergies prior to your surgery.
Cervical disc replacement can be an expensive operation depending on what your health insurance covers. While this provides a long-term solution to patients, it is often pricer than medication and physical therapy. You will also need to miss work for a brief period of time and may need a short-term caretaker.
Not everyone is a candidate for 3-level cervical disc replacement surgery. Your doctor will want to make sure you are in good health so they know you can recover fully. Other conditions or medications that you are currently on could limit the approval process.
In the event that you are not a candidate for disc replacement surgery, your doctor might recommend fusion or a hybrid surgery as an option. Rather than replacing the damaged discs, fusion holds your vertebrae in place so they no longer knock or rub against each other. It stabilizes the spine but also limits mobility. Fusion is also a more invasive surgery because your doctor needs to use a plate or rods to connect the vertebrae together.
Fusion is still a widely-practiced operation and is considered safe; however, the recovery time is longer and the results usually aren’t as good as disc replacement. Patients often report reduced mobility because their spine can’t bend and turn as it normally does – think about a snake that can no longer make its iconic s-shape because the vertebrae are fused into one line. While this operation can lower your pain levels, you might not feel as flexible as you used to be.
A skilled and experienced surgeon will determine whether you are a candidate for 3-level cervical disc replacement or whether fusion surgery is a better option for your long-term health. A surgeon like Dr. Lanman will do his best to help you live a mobile, pain-free life.
If you live with chronic neck pain that is only getting worse, consider meeting with Dr. Lanman to talk about your symptoms and develop a treatment plan. Dr. Lanman will consider your health and other lifestyle factors to help you reduce your pain levels. He can walk you through your options – including cervical disc replacement if you are a candidate.
Know that no one should ever force you into getting surgery. This is for your body and you can choose what is right for your needs. Dr. Lanman will present different treatment paths and the facts behind each choice so you can make the best possible decision.
Yes. While every patient is different, most people are able to enjoy reduced pain levels and increased mobility after their off-label 3-level cervical disc replacement surgery. They can fully return to work and enjoy their favorite hobbies within three to six months of the operation.
If multiple spinal discs in the same area are worn out or pushed out of place, your doctor might replace them in the same operation. You can have up to five spinal discs replaced at once – this is considered an off-label surgery – though 1-level and 2-level operations are the most common.
Immediately after the operation, you will likely feel some pain that should be concentrated around the incision site and the front of the neck. Some of your nerves might also cause you to feel pain in your spine. However, as you recover, your pain should subside and you should notice fewer symptoms and increased mobility.
You might not be a good candidate for this off-label operation if you have existing health conditions that could prevent you from healing fully. Your doctor will ask about any medications you take and disorders you currently have. If they are concerned about your ability to heal and recover, your doctor might recommend alternative treatments to reduce your pain levels
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