The Benefits of Lumbar Disk Replacement for Those Suffering from Chronic Back Pain

Chances are you have had back pain at some point in your life. In fact, 8 out of 10 Americans will experience some form of back pain during their lifetime. Among the various types of back pain, the most common is mechanical lower back pain caused by degenerative processes.

“What makes back pain complex is there can be multiple reasons why you’re experiencing pain,” said Mohamed Salar, MD, assistant professor at Michigan State University and orthopedic surgeon at MSU Health Care who performs spinal procedures at McLaren Greater Lansing. “For this reason, it is very important for us to assess each patient and where their pain is coming from to find the right diagnosis and the right treatment option.”

Dr. Salar describes the different types of back pain, including:

  • Acute back pain happens suddenly and usually lasts for a few days or weeks
  • Subacute back pain typically lasts between 4 and 12 weeks
  • Chronic back pain is usually defined as back pain that lasts over 3 months

Degenerative disc disease is characterized by the gradual breakdown of the soft cushion between the vertebrae in the spine over time. This condition is often associated with wear and tear and disc dehydration, and can lead to chronic back pain, occasionally accompanied by flare-up episodes. It is one type of low back pain, and there are several other types and causes associated with its onset, including acute injuries, inflammation, and lifestyle factors such as obesity and other unhealthy habits.

Discogenic lumbar spine disease can cause pain in the lower back, and in some cases, this pain may radiate down the legs. Numbness or tingling, and weakness can occur. Over time, this condition can significantly disrupt an individual's quality of life, making it challenging to perform daily tasks and engage in the activities they love.

“We first look at noninvasive treatment options such as anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy and tailor a plan for each individual based on their pathology and presentation,” said Dr. Salar. “For those who are not happy with their outcome, or when treatments aren’t working for them after 6-12 weeks, we would discuss looking at several surgical options, including lumbar disk replacement surgery.”

Lumbar disk replacement surgery involves the replacement of worn disks, and it is a motion-preserving technique. This contrasts with traditional procedures like spinal fusion surgery, which permanently joins two vertebrae together.

“Spinal fusions are good options when indicated correctly; however, fusion is not achieved overnight. Typically, we anticipate an average of 3 months, and sometimes longer, for the fusion to occur and for the patient to regain their baseline functionality," said Dr. Salar. “With disc replacement surgery, we aim to initiate movement as early as possible, leading to a relatively shorter recovery time.”

Recovery and length of time is dependent on the individual. Dr. Salar discussed that being able to provide this procedure to patients suffering from degenerative disk disease can be beneficial to help preserve their motion and gain back their mobility faster. 

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