The Lowdown on Low Back Pain
(and Other Aches)


I have heard that an “artificial disc” or “disc replacement” could cure my chronic back pain.

Lumbar fusion is one available treatment for some types of chronic back pain. Lumbar fusion is a type of “disc replacement.” When a fusion is done, the diseased and painful disc is replaced with a solid piece of bone. “Artificial discs” or “total disc replacements” are similar in some ways. Instead of using bone, however, the bad disc is replaced with a metal and plastic appliance. “Artificial discs” are still experimental. Although some have been available in Europe for a few years, testing has just begun in the United States. According to the FDA, the procedure is not yet felt to be safe.

The “artificial disc” is made from metal and plastic. It looks like stacked saucers. Unlike a replacement with bone, in a fusion, replacements using the metal and plastic will hopefully preserve some movement. The “artificial disc” will be inserted from the front through a small incision below the navel. The operation lasts about an hour and a half. A three or four-day hospital stay will be required.

Even if successful for some problems, the “artificial disc” will not fix all back pain. For more information, consult your spine specialist.



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Last modified: 07/27/08