Over 80% of Americans will experience back pain at least once in their lifetime. Degeneration of the spinal discs is one of the main causes of back pain and spinal disorders. Disc degeneration is often extremely painful and very hard to treat. The use of artificial discs is one of the most promising surgical treatments being developed and utilized today.
Artificial spinal disc replacement has the potential to provide relief to millions of individuals that suffer from back, as well as, completely revolutionizing the treatment of spinal degeneration. While the development of an artificial disc still has many challenges, the initial results look promising.
What is a Spinal Disc?
The disc is the soft cushioning structure located between the vertebrae (the individual bones of the spine). It is made up of a cartilage-like tissue and is made up of an inner portion (the nucleus) and an outer portion (the annulus). The disc is generally flexible enough to allow the spine to bend. As we age, these discs begin to deteriorate. As this occurs, the discs degenerate and they lose their shock absorbing abilities. This can cause pain and wear and tear on the vertebrae.
What is an Artificial Disc?
An artificial disc is a device that is implanted into the spine to imitate the overall functions of a natural disc; to allow motion and carry a load. Artificial disc designs fall into two general categories: disc nucleus replacement and total disc replacement. A disc nucleus replacement removes only the center or nucleus of the disc and replaces it with an implant. A total disc replacement removes all or most the disc tissue and an implant is placed in between the vertebrae.
Spinal disc replacement was first attempted over 40 years ago when a surgeon implanted stainless steel balls in the disc spaces of over 100 patients. These groundbreaking procedures were followed by over a decade of research on the degenerative processes of the spine and spinal biomechanics and biomaterials. While artificial disc replacement is still considered experimental and is not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the ultimate goal is to develop a device that will eliminate the pain caused by disc degeneration while maintaining mobility and function.