A big challenge in spine surgery has been to develop a suitable replacement for the intervertebral discs. Age, genetics and everyday wear-and-tear of routine activities eventually can contribute to damage and degeneration of the discs that cushion the bones of the spine (the vertebrae).
Treatment of degenerative disc disease usually begins with conservative (nonsurgical) medical treatment. When conservative therapy fails, other approaches, possibly including surgery, may be recommended. For years and still the current gold standard for surgical treatment of problematic degenerative disc disease is spinal fusion. This procedure attempts to permanently lock two or more spinal vertebrae together so they move as a single unit. This may alleviate pain in a motion segment. However, it has potential disadvantages, including some loss of motion and flexibility. There is also the potential degeneration of the adjacent discs that may require treatment in the future.
In some cases artificial disc replacement offers a viable alternative to fusion that may avoid the downstream effects of fusion. Studies are currently underway to look at this specifically and to develop better disc prostheses. These devices have to be safe to implant, reliable and long lasting, and must have the ability to mimic the complex range of movement required of a disc.
Recovery from artificial disc replacement and care afterwards are much like that for other anterior approaches to the cervical and lumbar spine. In some cases, recovery is faster than for a traditional fusion surgery. The materials used in artificial disc replacements are similar the materials used in routine hip and knee replacement surgery and they are designed not to cause sensitivities once in the body.