Degenerative Disc Replacement Animation

This video animation explains degenerative disc replacement, a type of spine surgery that may be performed instead of spinal fusion. Disc replacement is also called artificial disc replacement (ADR) or total disc replacement (TDR) and may be used to replace a cervical or lumbar intervertebral disc in the neck or low back. Here, you can see how a damaged disc is surgically removed and replaced by an artificial disc. Also, the animation displays what a replacement disc looks like, how it supports and stabilizes the spine and how it moves.

Unbranded artificial disc.Whatever you choose to call it -- degenerative disc replacement, artificial or total disc replacement, these devices may help restore and maintain movement of a spinal motion segment. Photo Source:

Degenerative Discs Can Cause Neck and Back Pain

As we grow older, our bodies begin to degenerate on a cellular level affecting all our body systems, including the spine’s intervertebral discs. Degenerative changes can cause discs to lose height, shape, strength and flexibility. The outer protective layer of a disc in the neck or low back may weaken or tear and allow the inner gel-like matter to leak out (ie, herniate), which can compress or “pinch” nearby spinal nerve roots and/or the spinal cord (eg, myelopathy).

View our video animation: What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?

When spinal nerve compression causes neck or back pain to travel into another part of the body it is called a radiculopathy. “Radiculopathy” is named not for the ridiculous amount of pain it causes, but because in Latin, “radix" means root, referring to the nerve root involved, and “pathos” means suffering.

Who is a candidate for degenerative/ artificial disc replacement?

Your spine surgeon can help answer that question for you. Some people with degenerative disc disorders who continue to experience neck or back pain after a course of physical therapy or other non-surgical treatments may be candidates. Artificial disc replacement may be offered as an alternative to spinal fusion.

Are there specific reasons why my surgeon may not recommend cervical or lumbar artificial disc replacement?

The answer to this question relies in part on your medical history, current health status and diagnosis. For example, if you have a known allergy to metals or other materials the disc is made of, have a spinal tumor or infection, are pregnant, obese, have an autoimmune problem, or used steroids long-term. Some types of previous surgery, such as abdominal, may be a special consideration because of potential risk to blood vessels.

Disc Replacement or Spinal Fusion—That’s the Question

Disc or artificial disc replacement is an alternative to spinal fusion for many patients. The primary difference between the two is disc replacement restores and/or allows movement at the operative spinal level (eg, C3-C4, L2-L3), whereas fusion permanently stops movement.

In the disc replacement versus spinal fusion debate, one disadvantage of fusion is that it changes the spine’s load dynamics and may lead to adjacent segment disease. In contrast, artificial disc replacement helps maintain load pressures because it’s designed to mimic the spine’s natural movement. Also, disc replacement heals in 6-8 weeks whereas spinal fusion can take 3 months.

Depending on several factors, including your diagnosis and surgeon preference, spinal fusion may be a better choice for you. For example—fusion may be recommended if the lumbar (low back) facet joints are problematic.

How is degenerative disc replacement—ADR or TDR performed?

During surgical prep, you are positioned lying on your back on the operating table. The anesthesiologist sedates you using general anesthesia. The spine surgery is performed through the front (anterior) of your body, such as your neck or abdominal area.

The procedure may be performed using a traditional open approach (eg, long incision) or minimally invasively. The surgeon performs a discectomy, which is the surgical removal of the damaged intervertebral disc and involves preparing the empty disc space for insertion of the artificial disc. After distracting the upper and lower vertebral bodies, the new disc is gently embedded and secured into place. The soft tissues and muscles are moved back into their normal positions, the incision is closed (eg, sutured) and a dressing (ie, bandage) is applied to cover the surgical wound.

Updated on: 02/07/19
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Cervical Disc Replacement for Neck or Arm Pain

Cervical disc replacement is considered an option for some patients with arm or neck pain, and symptoms related to a problem involving one or two cervical discs.
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