Another study shows artificial disc replacement is a good alternative to fusion

Jun 23 2011
In some people, chronic pain due to degenerative disc disease does not respond to conservative treatments such as exercise or anti-inflammatory medications, and necessitates spine surgery.

There are many options for surgical treatment of back pain, and artificial disc replacement and standard fusion are top among them.

Since both approaches have been shown to work for the same condition, there are frequent studies comparing both techniques, which increasingly point to artificial disc replacement as a viable alternative to fusion.

This has previously been shown in cases when one diseased disc was involved, but new evidence suggests that it may also be true when two adjascent discs show signs of degeneration resulting in chronic back pain.

These conclusions were presented by researchers from the Spine Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and published in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.

Specifically, the authors looked at surgery outcomes of two groups of patients and found that two years after their operations, all of them reported less reliance on pain medications, but the effect was more significant in those who had undergone two-level artificial disc replacement. In fact, the pain improvement was noted in 73 percent of this group, as opposed to only 60 percent of the fusion patients.

"Also, more disc replacement patients said they were satisfied with their outcomes and would choose to have the surgery again," said Rick B. Delamarter, MD, vice chair for Spine Services in the Department of Surgery and co-medical director of the Spine Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The most likely reason was that disc replacement tends to be shorter and results in less blood loss, shorter recovery time and a more rapid improvement.

However, as always with these types of studies, Delamarter cautioned that a longer follow-up is necessary to fully assess the benefits or disadvantages of either procedure and understand possible risks of the implanted device wearing out.