Artificial Discs Offer Long-Term Results for Degenerative Disc Disease Back Pain

For patients who suffer back pain due to degenerative disc disease, there is an alternative to spinal fusion therapy for extreme cases.

Degenerative disc disease affects more than 3 million people each year and is a leading cause of lower back pain. It's incurable, but spinal fusion surgery can alleviate pain in extreme cases.

But another procedure may offer better long term results.

“Once you clean out the disc from approaching the spine from the front, you can replace a disc with this mechanical device, and it maintains the motion and allows for fairly normal motion of the lumbar spine,” said Dr. Faheem Sandhu, professor of neurosurgery and director of spine surgery at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

With the artificial disc procedure, “Size the space and put in the disc into that space,” Sandhu said. “So we try to fit it, ideally, it covers the bone from front to back and side to side, and so it fits very well.”

The disc Sandhu uses is called Active-L and was approved by FDA two years ago. He has performed the surgery on at least 20 patients. So far, results have exceeded expectations, Sandhu said.

“Most people, I’d say greater than 95 percent of people, don’t have serious problems, when they develop back pain, and they can be managed with, generally, with physical therapy, sometimes with medications, sometimes injections that help,” Sandhu said.

But when a patient exhausts all other options and is miserable and healthy enough for surgery, this is an option.

In addition to degenerative disc disease, people who have disc herniation, stenosis and arthritis are also eligible.

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