Artificial discs, or total disc replacements, are metal and plastic
devices that were developed to repair worn out discs in the neck and back.
Artificial disc surgery, however, remains both controversial and
experimental. It may become FDA approved in the United States in a few
months. A few doctors are already recommending this operation.
Cervical disc surgery is currently done using bone to replace the
damaged disc. This procedure can be done with
techniques and is effective in up to 90% of patients. The mechanical
cervical disc is more complex, takes longer, and may have more risks.
Lumbar disc surgery can be done with or without a disc replacement.
When only a portion of the disc is removed, the disc does not need to be
replaced. When the entire disc is removed, or when there is instability,
we currently replace the disc with a piece of bone. The bone replacement
procedure is called a fusion. The mechanical artificial disc would be used
instead of the bone. The artificial disc may work better in some people,
and the operation may be less painful. The artificial disc is, however,
more complex and may break down. All other artificial joints wear out and
need to be replaced or repaired periodically. Fixing a worn out artificial
disc would be a major procedure.
Before considering a new or experimental procedure, such as an
artificial disc surgery, one should weigh the options carefully and
consider a second opinion. Common sense dictates that one should be wary
of new or unproven procedures.