Artificial disc replacement for back or neck pain is superior to fusion surgery, study finds

Apr 27 2011
Back pain is one of the most prevalent health conditions in America, affecting as many as 8 in 10 individuals during their lifetimes. So it may come as welcome news that there is a range of both surgical and non-invasive therapies that can help patients reclaim their lives. 

Most healthcare providers recommend conservative treatments to patients who complain of back pain. These include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, application of hot or cold compresses as well as stretching and core muscle strengthening exercises. The latter should always be conducted under the supervision of a physical therapist in order to avoid further injury and pain.

However, there are cases in which these types of therapeutic approaches are not sufficient to provide lasting relief and the doctor may recommend surgery. There are multiple options, depending on the specific condition that the individual is diagnosed with and the part of the spine that is affected.

Recently, a pair of studies conducted by researchers from Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles, found that traditional spinal fusion surgery resulted in hospital bills that were almost 50 percent higher than for artificial disc replacement.

These costs were further compounded by the fact that after a four-year follow up, patients with degenerative disc disease in the neck who underwent fusion had four times the risk of needing more interventions, especially to treat new disc herniation in areas adjacent to fused sections.

These studies illustrate the importance for patients to discuss all of their options with their doctors in order to select procedures that make the most sense given their condition and financial situation.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Rick B. Delamarter, who led the studies, says that back pain is the fifth leading cause of hospitalization in the U.S. It is also the third most common reason for surgical procedures in American hospitals.