Spinal discs are the soft, cushioning material located between each vertebra along the spine. They are important for providing shock absorption for the bones and allow for flexing, bending, and twisting movements. As we age, these discs degenerate and break down causing a loss of fluid within the discs or tears to form, from which the jelly-like interior can seep out.
People who do not see improvement from non-surgical treatment (including medication, injections, chiropractic therapy, and physical therapy) will most likely be recommended for artificial disc replacement surgery or spinal fusion. Doctors will use an MRI to determine the amount of degeneration, and discography will be used to pinpoint exactly where the problem lies. Discography is the process of injecting dye into the discs and taking x-rays and a CT scan to examine which discs are related to your pain.
In the past, spinal fusion was the most common procedure used to eliminate pain from degenerative disc disease. In fusion surgeries, the disc is removed and replaced by bone and the vertebrae are fused together, eliminating movement, and significantly reducing pain in the area. Artificial disc replacement, however, allows for the normal, or close to normal, movement of the spine. Recovery is generally much faster than with spinal fusion as well.
Certain medical conditions may prevent you from being a good candidate for disc replacement surgery. People with spondylolithesis, osteoporosis, fractures of the vertebrae, a spinal tumor, spinal infection, or allergies to the artificial materials, and those who are pregnant or morbidly obese will be not be recommended for surgery.