Disc replacementsurgery

Using this guide What's covered

Here you’ll find answers to many of your questions about intervertebral disc replacement or total disc replacement. Learn how's it done, what it may cost, what your recovery may be like, and more.

For personal insights, see our patient experience videos in which HCF members talk frankly about their preparation, surgery and recovery.

Before deciding on disc replacement, be sure to check out other back pain treatments first.

Cost Indicator

Discover the typical out-of-pocket costs HCF members can expect to pay for laminectomy and learn how your choice of surgeon and hospital affect that cost.
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The basics

What is total disc replacement surgery?

Total disc replacement surgery replaces an intervertebral disc that’s become worn with a prosthesis. The procedure relieves pain and restores the height of the spine after discs degenerate and the disc nerves or adjacent nerve roots become irritated. The problem normally affects the lower (lumbar) spine or the neck (cervical spine).

When discs degenerate or herniate, friction between vertebrae causes inflammation and pain. When this occurs in the lumbar spine, people often complain of spasms (as their body attempts to re-stabilise the spine) as well as low-grade background pain between flare-ups. Damaged discs in the neck can cause neck pain, nerve pain or spinal cord compression, which can lead to severe disability. Pain can also radiate down your arms or legs – known as referred pain. It can cause weakness and numbness in your buttocks and legs, including sciatica (pain radiating down the back of your leg).

How's it done?

During the procedure, your surgeon makes an incision in your abdomen (for lumbar spine) or front of your neck (for cervical spine), then removes and replaces the damaged disc with a prosthesis that moves in multiple directions just like a normal disc does.

Where's it done?

Disc replacement is done in a hospital. The average length of stay is 2–7 days.

How long does it take?

It can take 2–4 hours for your surgeon to replace a single disc, or longer if the surgery is more complex.

Who's involved?

In addition to a neurosurgeon or an orthopaedic spinal surgeon, it also involves:

  • a vascular surgeon (for lumbar disc replacement)
  • an assistant surgeon
  • an anaesthetist
  • nurses
  • a radiographer (for X-rays)
  • a physiotherapist
  • an occupational therapist. 

The details

Considering the procedure

Alternatives to total disc replacement

There are alternatives to total disc replacement in some cases.
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Types of total disc replacement

There are 2 different ways to perform a total disc replacement surgery.
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Results vs risks of the procedure

The benefits and risks of total disc replacement.
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Choosing a specialist

How to find a neurosurgeon or orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in this procedure.
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Questions for your specialist

What you should ask before going ahead with disc replacement.
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Preparing for your procedure

Pre-operative tests and how to prepare for disc replacement surgery.
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Your anaesthetic options

Options for anaesthetic and post-op pain relief.
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Your procedure

Going to hospital

What to expect on the day of your surgery.
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Your procedure

What happens in the operating theatre.
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Recovery and aftercare

After your procedure

Your hospital stay.
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Resuming activities and watching for problems.
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People who’ve had total disc replacement surgery talk about their preparation, hospital stay and recovery.


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Eligible HCF members can get a free, confidential second opinion on their health condition from a certified, practising medical specialist based in Australia. 


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Give us feedback

Did you find this guide helpful? Let us know what you liked or what we can do to improve it. We'd love to hear from you.

To provide feedback, email us at wellbeing@hcf.com.au.

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Important information

Information is provided by HCF in good faith for the convenience of members. It is not an endorsement or recommendation of any form of treatment nor is it a substitute for medical advice, and you should rely on the advice of your treating doctors in relation to all matters concerning your health. Every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, however HCF takes no responsibility for any injury, loss, damage or other consequences of the use of this information.