After you’ve tried conservative treatments for back pain relief for 6 to 7 months or more with no significant relief, surgery becomes an option. Choices typically include fusion, once your only surgical option, and artificial disc replacement. Deciding between the two surgeries starts with having a thorough understanding of what’s involved with both procedures.
Spinal fusion refers to the process of removing all or part of a damaged disc and joining the adjacent bones of the spine together to prevent movement. With fusion, rods and screws are often used to keep the spinal stable until a fusion forms from the bone graft. Reasons to consider spinal fusion include:
• It’s a fairly reliable procedure that’s frequently performed
• The part of the spine that was fused will become stronger if the fusion successfully forms, often negating the need for future surgery at the same site
• Wear and tear may be reduced on nearby areas of the spine since movement of the vertebrae will be limited
Artificial disc replacement, available to the general public since 2004, is quickly becoming a viable alternative to traditional spinal fusion surgery. During the procedure, a prosthetic implant is used to replace the offending disc. Benefits of disc replacement to consider include:
• Motion of the spine is retained
• Recovery often requires less time than fusion surgery
• The procedure is less invasive
Weighing the Options
Fusion surgery is still the most common procedure performed. Artificial disc replacement only treats certain disc problems, so a limited number of patients are eligible for the procedure. In some cases, the risks associated with both options are nearly equal. Unsuccessful results from conservative treatments doesn’t always mean surgery is the next step. Additional testing may identify a source of pain that can be treated non-surgically.
The re-surgery rate for fusion surgery is 2-3 times higher than what patients experience with disc replacement. Yet there’s no long-term data available on patients who’ve had disc replacement since it’s a fairly new procedure. Have an honest discussion with your doctor that includes receiving thorough answers to your questions and enough information to make a confident decision.
For a second opinion or to learn more about possible treatment options for your back pain, call (310) 828-7757. The experienced diagnosticians and surgeons at The Spine Institute Center in Los Angeles can help you rediscover a pain-free life.