Artificial discs: Not all they claim to be

Lower back pain can have many root causes, with one of them being degenerative disc disease that could lead to an unstable spine.  Up to now, the main surgical treatment of an unstable lumbar spine was spinal segmental fusion.  However, clients now have the choice of having an artificial disc implanted instead. Even though this technology is fairly new and the long term outcomes of the artificial disc are not known, many are touting them as the “next big thing”.   The proposed benefits include increases in mobility and range of motion of the lumbar spine that a fusion could potentially not provide. 

If you have been considering having a lumbar artificial disc implant, you may want to think again considering the latest information that was just presented at the Spine Week 2012, inAmsterdam.  The long-term risks and benefits of this treatment simply have not been documented adequately.

Several of the studies that have touted the benefits of disc replacement over vertebral fusion have been shown to be of “poor” design, had multiple flaws, or the results have been exaggerated. Since most of these studies are sponsored by the manufacturer, they have an obvious bias in a positive outcome. As with any study you read, the first question should always be “who sponsored the study?”

Bottom line in my opinion is to first try to naturally stabilize your spine with core strengthening exercises and if surgery is a necessity, hold off on the temptation to try the “next big thing”

~ Ed Deboo, PT