Total disc replacement surgery is done to relieve pain caused by a degenerated disc
If you’re planning to have total disc replacement surgery, make sure your surgeon has plenty of experience with this type of surgery. Disc replacement is an alternative to spinal fusion.
Cervical (neck) disc replacement
To replace an intervertebral cervical disc, your surgeon makes a 3-4 cm incision in the front of your neck to access your cervical spine. They’ll then remove the diseased disc and smooth off the surfaces of the vertebrae. Metal plates are inserted and screwed into each of the vertebrae, then your surgeon wedges a polymer core in between them to take the place of the disc. The metal plates eventually bond with your vertebrae.
Lumbar (lower back) disc replacement
To replace an intervertebral lumbar disc, your surgeon makes a 7-10 cm incision in your abdomen, near your belly button. They’ll moves aside your intestines to access your spine, being careful not to damage them or any veins and arteries in the area. A vascular surgeon or a general surgeon might be involved to look after this aspect of the surgery. After removing the diseased disc, your surgeon smooths off the surfaces of the vertebrae. Metal plates are inserted and screwed into each vertebra, then your surgeon wedges a polymer core in between them to take the place of the disc. The metal plates eventually bond with your vertebrae.
Lateral total lumbar disc replacement
This is a new type of disc replacement surgery where the lumbar spine is accessed from the back, instead of through the abdomen. It’s not suitable for replacing the discs between L5 and S1 (lower lumbar), and currently only a few surgeons in Australia perform the procedure. Without having to go in through the abdomen, the risks of abdominal damage should be reduced. Hospital stay and recovery time may also be shorter. So far there’s no long-term data about its effectiveness or safety.
If you have problems with two adjoining discs, your surgeon may recommend hybrid surgery where one disc is replaced and the one next to it is fused.