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Artificial (Total) Disc Replacement

Artificial disc replacement, often called total disc replacement or arthroplasty, is a surgical procedure performed by Beaumont spine surgeons to treat degenerative disc disease or disc herniations in the spinal column. Herniated or damaged discs are replaced with artificial disc devices in either the cervical or lumbar spine. Artificial disc replacement was developed as an alternative to spinal fusion surgery and is designed to reduce or eliminate a patient's pain level while still maintaining motion throughout the spine. In addition, it helps to relieve future stress placed on the vertebral discs above and below the surgical site.

Indications for this procedure can be very specific, so make sure you discuss this treatment option with your doctor before deciding on a treatment plan.

Disc Replacement Surgery Overview

Disc replacement surgery involves removing a diseased disc and replacing it with an artificial disc made of medical-grade metal or a combination of medical-grade metal and plastic.  It is done when the space between the vertebrae has become too narrow and part of the vertebrae or disc is pressing on the spinal cord or spinal nerves, causing pain, numbness, and/or weakness.  When these symptoms do not respond to nonsurgical types of treatment, disc replacement surgery may be recommended.

In traditional fusion surgery, the diseased disc is removed and the vertebrae above and below the disc may be fused together. Disc replacement surgery may have the advantage of allowing more movement and creating less stress on the remaining vertebrae than traditional spinal fusion surgery on the neck or back.

Reasons for the Procedure

The reasons for artificial disc replacement surgery are specific to each patient. Your surgeon will discuss your surgical options with you and determine if disc replacement is best suited for your condition.


In the neck, loss of space between the cervical vertebrae from cervical disc degeneration, or wear and tear, is common. Cervical discs begin to collapse and bulge with age; this happens to most people by the age of 60. Patients experience varying degrees of symptoms as the discs degenerate.

Symptoms may include:

  • neck pain
  • neck stiffness
  • headache
  • pain that travels down into the shoulders or arms
  • weakness in the shoulders, arms, hands or legs
  • "pins and needles" or numbness in the arms
  • difficulty with balance


Not everyone with back pain is a good candidate for a lumbar disc replacement surgery. A doctor will perform tests to determine if it's the right procedure for you.

Lumbar disc replacement surgery might be recommended if:

  1. The source of back pain mostly comes from only one or two discs in the spine.
  2. There is no significant joint disease or compression on the nerves.
  3. The patient is not excessively overweight.
  4. The patient has not previously had spinal surgery.
  5. The patient does not have scoliosis or another spinal deformity.

Other factors will also be considered in the doctor's determination of whether a lumbar disc replacement surgery, a lumbar fusion surgery, or another course of action is best.