Could Total Disc Replacement Become the Number One Degenerative Disc Solution?

Cervical spine surgery

Did you know that 80% of the world’s population will deal with back pain at some point in their life? This is the reality for millions of people, and the American Chiropractic Association reports that back pain is the among the most common reasons for Americans missing work. The aches and discomfort associated with back pain can be debilitating, and make standing, walking and sitting unbearable for long periods of time.

For several people, the reason for their back pain is a degenerative disc disease, and by 50 years of age, about 85% of people show signs of disc degeneration, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. This occurs when discs in the spine begin to crack or leak fluid, which makes them less shock absorbent. The result is chronic back pain, that can extend to the shoulders, and cause numbness in the extremities.

One of the most common treatments for this disease is a cervical fusion or spinal fusion. The premise of this surgery with regard to degenerative disc disease is to remove the degenerated disc, and create a bridge using bone from another part of the body, or from a bone bank, to join the adjacent vertebrae after the damaged disc is taken out. A metal plate can also be used to join the vertebrae together and hold them in place.

But total disc replacement surgery (TDR) is fast becoming the treatment of choice for many patients. Also called artificial disc replacement, this surgery is similar to cervical fusion in that it aims to remove the degenerated disc from the spine. But the difference with TDR is that this disc is then replaced with an artificial one in its place. This means that the vertebrae surrounding the disc do not necessarily have to be fused. The new disc is usually made either from metal or plastic, or both, and is designed to function like other discs in the spine.

One of the advantages of TDR is that it allows for greater motion. With spinal or cervical fusion, the fused vertebrae often create stiffness and loss of motion, because the movement of the spine is limited. With TDR, the replacement disc allows the spine to move freely because it is not constricted; the artificial disc bends and twists with the spine like any other disc. TDR patients often do not experience stiffness in their neck and back after surgery, though there is a period of healing before regular motion is recommended.

The other benefit to TDR is that it protects other vertebrae and discs from degenerating. With normal fusion, there is a higher chance of creating more tension on the fused vertebrae. When the two vertebrae are fused together, the shock absorption is decreased, making it harder for the body to handle heavy loads or excess movement. This could result in further damage to other vertebrae because they have to compensate for the missing disc. TDR restores the same level of support to the spine, and evens the load out to reduce these risks.

The ultimate goal of both of these surgeries is to reduce chronic back pain, and hopefully eliminate it. While fusion has been the most common surgery used to treat degenerative disc disease, TDR could be a more effective solution, and provide people with the relief they need without compromising their active lifestyle. Read more articles like this:

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