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Total Disc Replacements in Athletes

“To me, if life boils down to one thing, it’s movement. To live is to keep moving.” – Jerry Seinfeld

“To me, if life boils down to one thing, it’s movement. To live is to keep moving.” – Jerry Seinfeld

Our bodies are designed to move. Athletes in particular have mastered moving their bodies just the right way to excel in their fields. It is truly incredible to watch a professional athlete’s form. Hours upon hours of training have been invested into developing the correct form and motion. Each disc in our backs allow for movement of the spine. We see many athletes and athletically inclined patients in our clinic who fear that spine surgery would prevent them from doing what they love most.

Traditionally, patients with degenerative disc disease were offered a fusion. A fusion involves screws and often rods that essentially render a level of the spine motionless. One vertebrae is fixated to another and over time a bony bridge is formed and impedes motion. 

We see golfers, dancers, swimmers, runners, MMA fighters, hockey players and the list goes on. In the appropriate setting, we will always recommend a total disc replacement over a fusion. As this will preserve motion and this is the future of spine surgery. 

an artificial disc

The question then becomes, will an artificial disc allow an athletically inclined patient to truly participate in their sport without negatively impacting their performance? The short answer is “Yes!” 

A 2017 study was conducted by the Department of Neurosurgery at the Technical University of Munich in Germany. They researched patient’s return to sports after having a cervical total disc replacement. They followed professional athletes, semiprofessionals, and hobby athletes during their recovery from this surgery and found they were able to return to their sports unrestricted. Their results found the median time to resumption of sporting activity was 4 weeks after surgery and that all recovered to their previous level of activity. 

Dr. Mesiwala performed a 4-level cervical artificial disc replacement in an MMA fighter. This patient was able to return to his sport with the same level of intensity without restrictions.

If you are an athlete, or simply an active individual, I encourage you to meet with Dr. Mesiwala regarding a total disc replacement. It is not uncommon for our patients to tell us that they were previously recommended a fusion by another surgeon. While there is certainly a time and place for a fusion, we often see second opinions regarding this very topic. Our goal is for our patients to continue doing what they love most, uninhibited. 

Reinke A, Behr M, Preuss A, Villard J, Meyer B, Ringel F. Return to Sports After Cervical Total Disc Replacement. World Neurosurg. 2017 Jan;97:241-246. doi: 10.1016/j.wneu.2016.10.042. Epub 2016 Oct 14. PMID: 27751923.