Spine Total Disc Replacement

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Spine Total Disc Replacement:  aka disc replacement, spinal surgery, replacement of spinal discs




What is it?

Total disc replacement is a surgical procedure during which an artificial disc replaces a degenerated disc in a patient’s lumbar spine.  The surgery is done to help to restore a patient’s range of motion, stability, and function in their spine.  It also will help to reduce or remove pain in the person’s back, arm or leg, and to reduce the disease’s affects.  It’s a fairly new procedure that some patients are finding as an option that is preferable to spinal fusion.



The Operation

This type of surgery will normally take anywhere from two to three hours and requires the patient to be under general anesthesia.  The surgeon will normally approach the spine from the patient’s abdomen.  An incision that is approximately 7 centimeters long will be made and allow the spine to be exposed. 

At the right level, the disc material is very carefully exposed and then removed.   The artificial disc is then placed between the vertebrae right at the level that has been affected in the patient’s spine.    The disc is, in fact, a joint made of a ball and socket which is made in order to restore the motion, geometry and disc function to the patietn’s lumbar spine.




Alternatives to Surgery

Before the patient is scheduled for surgery, the patient’s condition may be treated with medications, rest, braces, and exercise to see any of them will help.  Some patients find that surgery isn’t needed.


Before the Surgery

The patient needs to stop smoking before the surgery.  If they consume alcohol, that should be limited or stopped one week prior to surgery.   If the patient takes any type of medication, they should let the surgeon know in case they need to be stopped.  The patient will need to make arrangements for someone to take them home and someone to stay with them during the first two days at home.

The patient will be instructed on when to stop eating and drinking.  They should also remove anything from the path and house that they may trip over when then they return home.


After the Operation - In the Hospital

When the patient wakes up from the anesthesia, they should feel a sense of relief from the pain that they had in their leg, arm, or back.   However, they are going to have some pain from the surgery. The staff in the hospital will monitor the patient closely and make sure that they are given enough pain relief.  The patient will find that they have a drain for their wound, which will be taken out after thirty six hours. The patient will also find that there are devices on their calves in order to reduce the risk of clots.  These stay on the patient’s legs while they are in the hospital until the patient is waling around.


The patient will also find that they have a urinary catheter, but it will be removed after the patient is walking around.  The removal of the catheter isn’t painful and only takes a couple of seconds.

The patient may also find that their bowels are sluggish for a couple of days after the surgery. This is due to the fact that their bowel was put to the side and will resolve itself.

The patient will be released anywhere from two to three days after the surgery, but this will depend on how well they are doing.




After the surgery - At home

The patient needs to have someone stay with them for the first two days when they go home, and their surgeon will let them know what types of steps they need to take to recovery.  The patient will not be allowed to do a few things, especially lifting objects.  They won’t be allowed to bend at the waist for six weeks.  They should not lift anything heavy for three months. They will be permitted to twist at the waist, but only if it’s slow and controlled. The patient should not drive for six weeks.

When the patient starts driving, it should be on a gradual basis, starting at short trips and then gradually increasing. The patient should take a standing break every forty five minutes when they are on a longer journey.

The patient should not do sports that involve impact, such as tennis and heavy jogging for at least three months.  The patient may do things such as swimming and light walking, because they are good and will help recovery.




Possible Complications


There are only a few complications that are associated with a total disc replacement. But the patient should be aware of the possible complications so that they are well informed and know what could happen.  Here are some of the possible complications that are associated with the total disc replacement: negative reaction to anesthesia, nerve damage and blood loss.


General Advice

It’s important for the patient to talk with their doctor and make certain that they know what is going to happen.   When they know about what could possibly happen, they can make an informed decision.  The surgery and recovery can be long, but when a parson is in pain it’s a good option to use.  When the pros and cons of the surgery are considered, the patient may find that it’s worth the effort.


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