If you’ve been doing research on the various types of back surgery, you’ve probably come across disc arthroplasty and total disc arthroplasty, as well as artificial disc replacement. If you’re wondering how these surgeries are different, here’s the answer: they’re not. All three terms refer to the same procedure—one that replaces a worn (or otherwise compromised) disc in your spine with a new, artificial one.
Will a disc arthroplasty help your low back and leg pain?
Your spine is made up of a series of stacked vertebrae, each of which contain a disc and two facet joints. The disc and joints work together as a unit, like the ball and socket of your hip. Every move you make depends on these units all functioning seamlessly.
When a disc becomes problematic—either because the exterior of the disc has been torn or the disc has become overly worn or flattened—it becomes painful. But it also often sets the stage for other painful conditions, including nerve compression, the development of bone spurs, or facet joints that sit improperly or become arthritic.
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If the surgeon who evaluates you determines that the disc is the most significant cause of pain and feels that a new disc will resolve the issue, he or she may determine that disc arthroplasty is an option. (Arthroplasty simply means to repair a joint; in this case, replacing a disc restores the joint.) However, a disc (or disk) arthroplasty only resolves back pain in 2%-5% of patients. So for the majority of patients, this surgery won’t deliver the results they expect.
Why does disc arthroplasty typically fail to treat back pain?
Much of the time, people who have a compromised disc also have other spinal problems, like spinal stenosis, radiculopathy (pinched nerves), or worn-out facet joints. In fact, the cases are rare that replacing a disc would resolve a patient’s back pain. For patients who do have additional pain sources, there’s no way to address them during a disc arthroplasty procedure. The reason for this is that surgeons performing a disc arthroplasty approach the spine from the front of your body—the stomach. Therefore, they don’t have access to the areas where pinched nerves are located, or to the worn-out facet joints—so it’s simply not feasible to fix these problems using this approach.
Because such a small percentage of people have the right conditions for this surgery—a degenerated disc with healthy facet joints and no nerve compression or other spinal issues—disc arthroplasty is not a popular procedure in the U.S.
How effective is cervical disc arthroplasty?
Total disc arthroplasty for the cervical spine (neck) is a different story than disc arthroplasty for the low back. An artificial cervical disc designed for the neck flexes, extends, and slides. And, like a lumbar disc arthroplasty, most cervical disc arthroplasties are also done from the front. However, other spinal problems in the neck can be addressed from the front—like cervical stenosis—which makes a cervical disc arthroplasty more applicable to more people. In fact, as many as 80% to 90% of patients experience pain relief from cervical disc arthroplasty. That’s why cervical disc arthroplasty has grown so rapidly that, in many centers, it is already replacing fusion for degenerative cervical conditions.
A Better Alternative To Lumbar Disc Arthroplasty: BalancedBack® Total Lumbar Arthroplasty
Today, there is a solution for back pain other than disc arthroplasty—it’s called Total Lumbar Arthroplasty.
BalancedBack® is an innovative form of disc arthroplasty uses a posterior approach (through the back) to replace the function not only of the disc, but the facet joints as well. As a result, there are two important differences between disc arthroplasty and BalancedBack®:
- BalancedBack® surgeons can address pain arising from arthritic or otherwise compromised facet joints.
- Because BalancedBack® surgeons use a posterior approach, they can address a broad range of problems, including pinched nerves from spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis.
Because BalancedBack® makes the treatment of numerous spinal conditions possible, a lot more patients can benefit from this procedure—and get on with enjoying their lives.