Artificial Disc Replacement: Faster recovery times and fewer complications.

And the procedure is now covered by most healthcare insurance.

I see all kinds of patients every day with all types of pain and conditions.

An athlete (age 44), had been managing degenerating lumbar discs with conservative treatment at my office for about a year. Last week, she came home from a long run (she is a runner). She stooped to pick up an Amazon delivery and nearly collapsed from a sudden, sharp pain from her lower back.


A business owner (age 64), experienced shoulder and neck ache for most of his adult life. After he and his partner spent the afternoon installing new curtain rods in their home, he started feeling numbness and tingling in his right arm that persisted. He got worried when the other aches and pains didn’t go away as they had before.


There are so many others, and some with surprisingly similar stories. My patients come from all walks of life. Some are older; some are younger – as young as their mid-20s. Quite a few are athletes, but most are not. When they come to my office for the first time, many are nearly crippled by persistent, excruciating, often debilitating pain. I’ve had patients who are in so much pain that they need help getting in and out of a car just to keep her appointment with me.


I have a nearly non-stop schedule at my private practice in Beverly Hills. Add to this experience, I am a back surgery patient, myself. I’ve had many of the procedures that I prescribe for my patients: laminectomy, discectomy, spinal fusion, and artificial disc replacement. In my case, I suffer from degenerative disc disease in my cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back). So, when I meet my patients for the first time, there is no hyperbole when I say, “I feel their pain.” It is helpful to my patients when they know that I am empathetic because of personal experience, not just my practice as a physician. Life after disc replacement should be about getting back to the activities you love.


These days, everyone is in a hurry. Not only do physicians try to spend as little time examining their patients as possible, but patients themselves are also impatient for a solution. My personal experience forces everything to the present moment. Most patients suddenly want to hear how my story matches with theirs. A lot of patients open up with details that they hadn’t thought were significant to their present situation. I’ve had more than a few patients who were shocked to learn that their daily habit of peering down at their electronic devices for hours probably contributed more to their neck problems than the car accident they had a few years ago.


My story helps me spend more time during those first crucial moments that I meet my patients. We can talk more, spend as much time as necessary to get at the causes more than just with the symptoms. Symptoms are significant, but a more extended interview helps extend patient outlook and treatment options.


In cases that are not as severe, patients are relieved when they walk out with nonsurgical options like nutrition, fitness, physical therapy, and pain management. But if the situation requires surgery, I have another opportunity to ease worries.


If you have been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease (herniated disc) in your neck, the choice is usually between spinal fusion or artificial disc replacement (ADR). Here again, as I’m a patient of both procedures, from personal experience, cervical ADR offers us excellent news.


Artificial disc replacement surgery does what the name suggests: we replace spinal discs that have been herniated or ruptured with an artificial one.


Artificial disc replacement surgery and implant discs have undergone intense study. In the process, numerous favorable clinical trials have resulted. Post-operatively, patients often report full restoration of their range of motion and flexibility. And they also experience fewer postop complications.


To start procedure, the surgeon will perform a discectomy to remove the damaged or herniated disc between two vertebrae. Then, after preparation of the area, the surgeon inserts the artificial disc with end plates that are designed to encourage natural fixation to the vertebrae.


Several artificial discs have been approved by the FDA. The newest of them is the M6-C. While nearly all discs have several things in common, the M6-C is unique because the core is semi-flexible and more closely mimics natural discs.


Artificial disc replacement surgery can take up to 1 hour. With recent improvements in instruments and procedures, we can reduce the recovery period to 3 weeks.


Compare this with cervical spinal fusion, which is also major surgery. However, instead of replacing the semi-flexible disc between two vertebrae, we’ll fuse the bones together to control the effects of degenerative disc disease. The procedure involves implanting highly specialized steel screws and plates to stabilize two or more vertebral segments (levels). The area is prepared for bone graft material which “fuses” to form a single solid bony structure.


We now use advanced surgical tools to reduce the invasiveness of the procedure. However, even with the most modern surgical tool and methods, the surgery will take at least 2 hours, depending on the number of levels treated, and require 3 months of recovery.


And the even better news? These days, most health insurance covers the artificial disc procedure.


I see as many young and athletic patients as well as aging and sedentary ones. And the goal for every patient I see is always the same – get better and regain the freedom of movement. In my personal experience as a patient, I want what my patients want: to be greater than better.

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