If you’ve been told you have a herniated disc, you may have also been told you need a spinal fusion, which up to five years ago has been the traditional treatment for herniated discs. However, that advice for a spinal fusion — especially in the neck — no longer applies, according to Eeric Truumees, MD, a past president of the North American Spine Society (NASS), the world’s largest association of spine physicians, and former editor of the NASS Spine Journal.
“The most current spine research from NASS has shown that artificial disc replacement can reduce the need for additional surgery at other levels in the neck,” explains Dr. Truumees, a fellowship-trained spine surgeon at Texas Spine and Scoliosis in Austin, Texas. “The traditional treatment for herniated discs in the neck has been spinal fusion. But with spinal fusion, you are locking two vertebrae together. Research has shown that fusion puts extra stress on the discs above and below which can herniate those discs as well. New research documents that with an artificial disc, you are preserving motion which lessens the stress on other disc levels. This is especially important in the neck as you only have six disc levels to preserve motion.”
Those with back and neck problems can download a free 20-page Patient Guide at CentersforArtificialDisc.com that outlines in detail when a person should consider artificial disc replacement and the red flag symptoms for when to see a doctor for herniated disc symptoms to prevent permanent weakness or numbness in a hand or foot.
Artificial disc surgery — also referred to as motion preservation surgery — has rapidly evolved with new FDA-approved artificial disc implants that replicate the rotation and shock absorption function of the healthy disc. According to Dr. James Lynch, a fellowship-trained spine surgeon at Swift Spine Institute, the largest orthopedic and spine institute in Nevada, patients must educate themselves on the most current treatment for their herniated disc. “Once they go down the path of a spinal fusion, it’s difficult to reverse,” Dr. Lynch explains. “Much better to select the best motion preservation option at the beginning rather than have to deal with future disc herniations caused by a fusion.”
Recognizing that some spine surgeons bias the information in their web sites to their own capabilities and preferences, CentersforArtificialDisc.com was created to provide an unbiased source of information to patients. The free 20-page Patient Guide explains the limitations of spinal fusion and the benefits of motion preservation. The Patient Guide also explains not everybody qualifies for an artificial disc. Disc replacement in the low back, for example, is more complex and lumbar disc technology is still evolving. The Patient Guide can be downloaded free at CentersforArtificialDisc.com.
“The burden is on the patient to become well informed about their treatment options, and to research a second opinion when they are told they need spine surgery,” adds Dr. Lynch. “It takes extensive training and experience to implant an artificial disc or perform minimally invasive spine surgery, and a relatively small percent of spine surgeons are proficient in that. If you live outside a large metro area, you will have to travel for the most advanced spine care.”