Recovery from Lumbar Artificial Disc Surgery

An Interview with Jack Zigler, MD

"I think patients need to push for artificial disc technologies; make it more available. About half the insurance companies in the US say artificial discs are experimental or investigational; frankly, that’s nonsense." — Jack Zigler, MD

SpineUniverse: How soon do patients recover, and what is involved?

Dr. Zigler:
Patients recover quickly—in half the time it takes to recover from lumbar spine fusion. Patients are up and walking the afternoon of their surgery. Approximately, two-thirds of our patients are discharged home the day after surgery.

Patients are given a light brace and instructed how to wear the brace to limit the extremes of motion. It is important to protect their abdominal area while soft tissues heal, usually within two weeks. The brace also protects the spine while it heals. Between post-op weeks two and six motion is encouraged, and if necessary, some patients may begin physical therapy at six weeks. By the third month, patients are healed and have resumed activity.

What is nice is the patient is up and walking right away. They are independent, and don’t need someone taking care of them for weeks at home.

(Above) Example of a back brace

SpineUniverse: What do your patients tell you that have had lumbar artificial disc replacement?

Dr. Zigler:
The most common unsolicited comment is, “You gave me my life back!” As a surgeon, it is very, very rewarding—here was a person who was really hurting, losing out on part of their life because of back pain, nothing was making it better—but after surgically implanting an artificial disc they don’t have pain anymore and are mobile again.

At our institute, we’ve been doing this for 14 years—so we’ve seen patients later on for other problems that have happened to their bodies—it’s just remarkable. You know, it’s a hug, and a thank you.

SpineUniverse: Do you have any other comments you’d like to share?

Dr. Zigler:
I think patients need to push for artificial disc technologies, and help make it more available.  About half the insurance companies in the US say artificial discs are experimental or investigational; frankly, that’s nonsense.  These devices have been thoroughly tested and FDA-approved for eight years. Furthermore, there are tens of thousands of people world-wide who are doing really well with artificial discs.  

There is a limit to what doctors can do. However, patients are smart. They’ve done their research. They come in and ask intelligent questions, and know the outcomes of long-term data. They need to advocate for themselves, and if enough people do it, then the insurance companies will have to relent.

A few final words … a lot of patients whose insurance will not cover an artificial disc look for places where they can buy this care. They’ll pay for the artificial disc and look outside the US, mainly in Europe, for surgeons to do the implantation. However, there are places within the US, including the Texas Back Institute, that offers boutique spine care that is financially competitive with what’s offered outside the US.


Updated on: 10/08/15
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Lumbar (Low Back) Artificial Discs: Spine Technology Update
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Lumbar (Low Back) Artificial Discs: Spine Technology Update

Dr. Jack Zigler, an orthopaedic spine surgeon, talks with SpineUniverse about the history of lumbar (low back) artificial discs and how they differ.
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