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.
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.
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
- a radiographer (for X-rays)
- a physiotherapist
- an occupational therapist.
Considering the procedure
Alternatives to total disc replacement
There are alternatives to total disc replacement in some cases.
Types of total disc replacement
There are 2 different ways to perform a total disc replacement surgery.
Results vs risks of the procedure
The benefits and risks of total disc replacement.
Choosing a specialist
How to find a neurosurgeon or orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in this procedure.
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