5 Things You Want to Know about Artificial Discs

There has been a lot of interest and excitement lately about artificial discs. Here are 5 important things you should know about this new technology:

Artificial Disc#1 - What is an artificial disc?
While there are several different types of artificial discs, most are made of a metal (such as titanium or cobalt chromium) outer shell with an inside made of medical grade plastics. However, all artificial discs share the same purpose: to replace damaged discs while retaining movement and flexibility.

#2 - What are they used for?
When discs become severely damaged, a surgical procedure called fusion is often necessary. In this procedure, vertebrae are fused together using bone graft or a graft substitute. While this procedure is usually successful in relieving pain and strengthening the spine, most patients lose mobility in the area of the fusion. Artificial discs are used instead of fusion.

#3 - What's all the excitement about?
What makes the artificial disc so exciting is that once it's implanted, the spine is still able to retain mobility and flexibility. There is also no need for bone graft. In fusion surgery, bone graft is harvested from the patient's hip. For many patients, this is a major source of post-operative pain.

#4 - What is the CHARITE Artificial Disc?
In October 2004, the FDA approved the first artificial disc for use in the United States (this disc and others have been used in Europe and other parts of the world for several years). However, the CHARITE Artificial Disc (DePuy Spine, Inc.) has only been approved for patients with single-level degenerative disc disease between L4 and L5 or between L5 and S1. In addition, patients can only be considered for the device if they have tried non-surgical treatments without success for at least 6 months.

charite artificial disc

CHARITE Artificial Disc
Photo Courtesy of DePuy Spine, Inc.

#5 - Are artificial discs a cure for back pain?
Artificial discs are not a cure for back pain. Degenerative disc disease is only one of many causes of back pain. In fact, there will never be just one treatment that will be successful for all spinal conditions. Artificial discs represent just one more option spine specialists have to treat patients with damaged discs. Keep in mind that this technology is still in its infancy. Therefore patient selection and surgical expertise will influence a successful outcome.

Updated on: 06/22/17
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Cervical Artificial Disc Replacement Technology: An Overview

Richard D. Guyer, MD, Chairman of the Texas Back Institute Research Foundation spoke with SpineUniverse about cervical artificial discs.Learn More.
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