Comparing Spinal Fusion and Disc Replacement

Learn the Difference Between Bulging and Herniated Discs

When spine surgery becomes an option, you may have a choice between traditional spinal fusion surgery or disc replacement. There is no right or wrong choice between the two methods of stabilizing the spine since any type of back surgery is highly individualized. There are, however, other factors worth considering.

Spinal Fusion

The purpose of a spinal fusion is to stop the motion within the affected area of the spine. It’s a two-part surgery that starts with the initial insertion of hardware to stabilize the spine and the placement of graft material. The success of fusion surgery depends on whether or not a “fusion” between adjacent bones takes place. Due to advances in technology, there are many options available with fusion surgery, including:

  • The use of flexible hardware or instrumentation
  • Back and front approaches to reaching the spine
  • The use of minimally invasive techniques, such as the XLIF procedure, to minimize disruption to surrounding muscles and tissues

Disc Replacement

Approved for use in the United States in 2004, artificial disc replacement surgery is meant to preserve mobility of the spine while still providing stabilization. Artificial disc replacement involves the removal of the damaged disc and insertion of a man-made implant, which can be one with or without a plastic bearing surface, to replace the offending disc. Ideal candidates for disc replacement:

  • Have not had prior back surgery to correct instability
  • Are of a healthy weight and generally in good overall health
  • Do not have instability at multiple levels of the spine

Making a Choice

While the ability to retain range of motion makes disc replacement appealing for many patients, it’s not necessarily the clear choice. Some types of fusion surgery, especially procedures performed from the front, have similar outcomes and equal risk of complications. The choice will come down to what’s right for your condition and what procedures are available to you.

In most cases, you’ll likely have some time to weigh your options and consider other non-surgical treatments. If you do opt for surgery, take your time to ask questions and get as much information as possible to make a decision that’s right for you. To schedule an in-person consultation with an experienced spine surgeon in Los Angeles, call The Spine Institute Center at (310) 828-7757 today.