Life Span of an Artificial Disc
In the area of medicine, artificial discs are still relatively new, with the first artificial disc being approved for use in the United States in 2004. However, artificial discs have been used successfully in Europe since the 1990’s. This means some of the oldest artificial discs currently in use are at most 20 to 30 years old.
The materials, engineering, and implantation techniques used in the new discs are far superior to when the discs first arrived in the early 2000’s. However, as with any man-made device that is subject to wear and tear from repetitive forces like those experienced during everyday activities like running, exercising or playing sports.
Artificial Discs vs. Knee Replacements
Artificial disc replacement has trailed hip replacement and knee replacement for decades. Part of the issue is the knee and hip joints are more easily accessible than having to work around internal organs to reach the front of the spine to install an artificial disc. Secondly, if there is a problem with the disc, or if it wears out and needs to be replaced, revision surgery for an artificial disc is far more complex than revising a hip or knee joint — especially when the patient is over age 70 when the disc wears out.
This explains why orthopedic surgeons try to delay knee replacement and hip replacement surgery until the patient is in their 50s or 60s and the pain is unbearable. The surgeon hopes the artificial knee or hip joint will last 15 to 20 years — perhaps long enough to outlive the patient. This also underscores why an orthopedic surgeon will mandate that a joint replacement patient lose weight before surgery as the extra weight on an artificial knee or hip will wear it out early, perhaps in as few as 10 years if the person is obese or morbidly obese. With half of the U.S. population classified as “overweight” and 25% of Americans classified as obese, this is a huge factor is estimating the life of an artificial joint.
With artificial disc surgery, it’s not unusual for a person can have a blown disc in their neck or back in their 20s or 30s. This creates a huge issue with deciding on if artificial disc surgery is appropriate.
It is important to note that the knee experiences significantly different forces compared to a low back or neck, but similar considerations must be made by the physician and the patient before deciding if artificial disc is the appropriate option.
Longterm Results Look Promising
Studies that have been conducted on the durability of artificial discs do look promising. According to International Society for the Advancement of Spine Surgery: