The Advantages of Disc Replacement Over Spinal Fusion

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You’re struggling with chronic back or neck pain that stems from a problem in one of your discs. To solve the problem, you’re wondering which approach is right for you — disc replacement or spinal fusion.

Imagine returning to a world in which you can finally move, without pain, allowing you to feel human again. While surgery of any kind may not be your top choice to achieve this goal, if a procedure can provide meaningful relief for your ongoing back or neck pain, it may be a journey worth taking. 

There are many different types of spine surgeries, and board-certified neurosurgeon Dr. Ali H. Mesiwala and our team have considerable experience with most of them, including spinal fusion and artificial disc replacement.

This experience has also allowed us to figure out which approach may be more beneficial and, more often than not, we’ve found that artificial disc replacement offers better outcomes. Let’s take a look.

Artificial disc replacement and spinal fusion explained

These two procedures are both designed to tackle back or neck pain that stems from problems in your intervertebral discs that lead to nerve compression.

As the name suggests, disc replacement surgery is a procedure in which we remove your problematic disc and replace it with an artificial one.

With spinal fusion, we remove the damaged disc and then join the vertebrae on either side together to make one larger vertebral unit.

These are overly simplified explanations, but they’re enough to help you understand why we prefer disc replacement whenever possible, which we discuss below.

Possible limitations of spinal fusion that disc replacement can overcome

While spinal fusion can be effective, there are several downsides to this approach to back and neck pain, most of which are answered by artificial disc replacement.

Limited movement

When two of your vertebrae are joined together, you lose mobility in that area. In your upper back, this may not be too much of a problem, but most spinal fusions take place in more active areas of your spine, including your lower back and neck.

When we replace your damaged disc with an artificial one, we’re preserving the mobility along your spine.

Future complications

Another issue that occurs frequently after spinal fusion is accelerated degeneration in the discs above and below the fusion. When one of your discs is eliminated and the vertebrae are fused, it places more stress on the discs above and below the surgical site. In other words, your pain can return, and in 30% of cases, require another surgery.

Another point we want to make here is that spinal fusion isn’t always effective — at least 20% of people who undergo the procedure don’t achieve adequate pain relief.

With disc replacement, we can preserve the balance in your spine and avoid premature degeneration and subsequent surgery.

Spinal fusion provides a shorter road to recovery

Spinal fusion is not only a more involved procedure, it can take months for the vertebrae to fuse together. During this time, you’ll be in a hard cervical collar or back brace, depending on where the vertebrae were fused.

With disc replacement, we not only perform the procedure on an outpatient basis in most cases, but your recovery is only about 2-4 weeks. During this time, you’ll sometimes wear a soft cervical collar if we replaced a disc in your neck, but no bracing if it was in your lower back.

Of course, you need to take it easy during this time, and you should follow our physical therapy instructions to the letter so you can strengthen your spine and preserve range of motion.

As you can see, there are many advantages of disc replacement over spinal fusion, and we’re happy to sit down with you to figure out which is best for your circumstances.

Dr. Ali Mesiwala is a leader in the field of spine surgery and is faculty for lumbar and cervical disc replacement procedures. He teaches other surgeons on the procedure and participates in research studies that will help advance the techniques and implants that are currently in use. 

The disc replacement procedures are typically performed in the outpatient setting. Meaning that the patients can go home the same day after the operation. For cervical disc replacement our operative time is approximately 30 minutes and for the lumbar spine the disc replacement takes approximately 40 minutes. 

These discs have been implanted in patients who have degenerative disc disease. We have implanted the discs in patients who are weekend warriors, professional athletes, first responders, and even military personnel. We monitor our patients recovery carefully to ensure that they are able to return to normal activity levels post-operatively. 

More information about disc replacement can be found on our website: www.drmesiwala.com . As a leader in spinal surgery, Dr. Mesiwala strives to empower his patients and guide them to full recovery. 

To get started, please contact one of our offices in Newport Beach, Marina del Rey, Rancho Cucamonga, or San Bernardino, California, to set up a consultation.