What’s the Difference Between Spinal Fusion and Disc Replacement Surgery?

Disc replacement surgery recovery time

Nearly half of all working Americans suffer from back pain every year, and it’s not just due to heavy lifting. Office workers can face back problems at the same rate, mostly due to inactivity and slouching in office chairs for long periods of time. If you visit a doctor’s office, you’re likely to be recommended a course of physical therapy and possibly pain medications to deal with your discomfort in the meantime.

But what happens when standard exercises simply aren’t enough to fix what’s wrong, and the back pain persists? In cases like that, you may become a candidate for spinal surgery — but make no mistake, that’s not a light diagnosis by any means. Modern surgeons today have two procedures they rely on to correct spinal issues and alleviate back pain: spinal fusion and artificial disc replacement. And both have their pros and cons.

Cervical Fusion Surgery

The Benefits: Fusion has long been the typical procedure to help treat pain brought on by spinal disabilities and disorders. That’s because it seeks to stop the vertebral discs from moving altogether, ceasing the pain in the process. To accomplish this, surgeons need to “fuse” the bony vertebrae surrounding the damaged disc(s).

The Drawbacks: The pain stems from the disc itself, and fusion aims to bypass it so that you no longer have to feel in pain whenever it moves. However, cervical surgery of this kind doesn’t do much to “fix” the disc in the traditional sense, meaning your damaged disc remains in your spine permanently.

Artificial Disc Replacement Surgery

The Benefits: Unlike fusion, disc replacement will actually remove the damaged disc entirely and replace it with a prosthesis. This spinal “implant” (as it’s called) can help to eliminate the pain completely via removing the disc itself. For this reason, replacement surgery is quickly growing in popularity — and the disc replacement surgery recovery time might be shorter because the patient doesn’t have to wait for any bones to heal.

The Drawbacks: No matter how popular it’s getting, disc replacement is still a new surgery, having been approved less than a decade ago. Additionally, the disc replacement surgery recovery time might be quicker, but there’s still no guarantee that the procedure itself is as beneficial as fusion surgery. In another 10 years or so, we may know those answers.

For more information on any kind of major spinal surgery (fusion, replacement or otherwise), it’ll help to have a long talk with your physician. Refernce materials.

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