Is Disc Replacement Surgery Safe?

Mar 29, 2022

Artificial Disc Replacement surgery is an advanced medical procedure to cure spinal conditions and is widely used by the most experienced neurosurgeons because of its efficacy, reliability, and fast results. However, just like most surgeries, there are some risks involved with this surgery, which is why patients are often reluctant.

In this article, we will tell you whether a disc replacement surgery is safe for you or not. Also we will explain how a disc replacement surgery is done and what risks are involved. After reading this article, we hope you will be in a better position to assess the pros and cons of the surgery and decide if you should go for it.

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What is Artificial Disc Replacement Surgery, and how is it done?

Showing difference between degenerative disc disease and artificial disc

For patients who are diagnosed with spinal issues such as degenerative disk disease, neurosurgeons remove the worn & damaged disk and then replace it with a mechanical one through Artificial Disc Replacement Surgery. 

For the surgery, the patient is put under general anesthesia while he lies face up on a table. Then, a 1 to 2 inch incision is made to remove the affected disc, any disc fragments, or osteophytes (bone spurs). After this, the disc space is restored to its normal height in order to relieve pressure on the surrounding nerves and prepare space for the artificial disc. Lastly, the artificial disc device is placed, and the incision is sewn up. The device is designed to move with the spine in a way that restores range of motion and allows the patient to move normally without any pain.

What can go wrong with an Artificial Disc Replacement Surgery?

It is perfectly reasonable for patients to consider the safety of disc replacement surgery since the spine, one of the most sensitive parts of the body, is involved. If anything goes wrong with the spine, it can leave patients with a life-long disability. This is why these surgeries only attract the best neurosurgeons, and for a good reason—there is a lot at stake.
However, regardless of how good a surgeon is and how many precautionary measures are taken, there are a few complications & failures that can happen, and there is not much that can be done about that. So let's look at some of the risks involved with an Artificial Disc Replacement Surgery.

Intra-Operative Risk of Artificial Disc Replacement

A research conducted at 21 surgical centers across North America, gave reassuring results as no deaths were recorded during the 258 cases where patients had received cervical artificial disc replacement surgery. However, in 0.77% of the cases, the most common serious complication that occurred during surgery was a dural tear - breaking of the spinal cord covering.
Other serious complications such as temporary or permanent nerve injury and paralysis occurred no more than 0.02% accumulatively.

Post-Operative Risk Of Artificial Disc Replacement

Several complications can emerge after the surgery, however, fortunately, they are relatively rare, and the common ones are usually temporary. Some of these are:

Dysphagia

Dysphagia is a very common condition where patients have trouble with swallowing after a cervical artificial disc replacement surgery. Nearly 70% of patients go through this condition, and due to such a high occurrence rate, it is considered to be an unavoidable part of the surgery rather than a complication by many surgeons. However, this is a temporary condition and usually resolves within hours to 1-2 days. 

Heterotopic Ossification

Heterotopic ossification refers to a condition when a bony material grows on/around the artificial disc after the surgery. Although this does not occur quite often, there is no certainty because in most cases this does not cause any symptoms or disability. However, severe heterotopic ossification can be a problem since it can interfere with the range of motion in the neck. 
If you are working with an experienced neurosurgeon, the risk of heterotopic ossification can be reduced through excellent surgical technique and certain intra-operative precautions.

Disc Migration

Disc migration refers to the dislocation of the artificial disc from its intended position. This can cause pain, decreased range of spinal motion, and can possibly require a second surgery. 

The rate of disc migration is only 2-3%, but this too happens because of two reasons:

  • When the patient has “weak bones.” 
  • The right surgical techniques were not used 

This is why working with an experienced neurosurgeon is important to ensure that he evaluates your case well and reduces the risk of disc subsidence and migration by following best surgical practices.

Is Artificial Disc Replacement A Safe Option For Me?

As with any medical procedure, the decision comes down to benefits versus risks. Given the risks and their low occurrence rate, it is safe to say that artificial disc replacement surgery is a good choice for most patients. However, every patient is unique and has a different medical history. Therefore, you must discuss your case and the risk factors with your neurosurgeon. He/she will be an essential partner in helping you determine if artificial disc replacement surgery is the best and safe option for you. Your case would be assessed on your unique anatomy, your particular cause of pain, and whether you have healthy spinal bones.

Contact Southern California Brain & Spine Surgery

If you have been suffering from back pain symptoms and non-surgical treatments have not worked for you, you must consult a Neurosurgeon. Get in touch with our experienced Neurosurgeon at Southern California Brain & Spine Surgery. Our board-certified neurosurgeon will listen to your concerns, review all treatment options, and assess if you are a good candidate for the surgery. We will also create a plan suited to your needs to ensure fewer complications and faster recovery time. For more information on Disc Replacement Surgery or to discuss your case, contact us through our website or reach us at (213) 369-4583 to speak with one of our spine specialists.