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Disc Replacement vs Fusion

Surgery is only recommended for about 15% of the patients we treat at Saratoga Spine. When it is needed, there are several different methods we use to help our patients. When treating herniated discs or degenerative disc disease surgically, we may choose a disc fusion or disc replacement. In this article we’ll take a look at the disc fusion vs replacement and how they compare.

disc fusion vs replacement surgery

What is Disc Fusion?

Disc fusion is a surgical method used to treat herniated discs and conditions associated with degenerative disc disease. Disc fusions are very common and have been performed for decades.

When a disc fusion is performed, the surgeon removes the problematic desk and, in its place, puts bone graft material. Bone graft can be natural bone or synthetic bone-like material. After a disc fusion surgery, the vertebrae on either side of the bone graft begin to heal, and grow into the bone graft. As a result, the two vertebrae become one bone mass. They are, essentially, fused together into one bone.

What Is Disc Replacement?

Disc replacement is a surgical treatment used to treat many of the same conditions that disc fusion treats.

During disc replacement surgery (also called disc arthroplasty), the problematic disc is also removed. However, with this technique, an artificial disc is put in its place.

Disc Fusion vs Replacement

History and Experience

The origins of disc fusion can be dated back to ancient Greece. They may not have been performing the disc fusions we are today, but literature shows their theories on the subject were similar. Disc fusions of modern times have continued to evolve but the basic premise of the procedure has been around for decades.

Disc replacement, on the other hand, is a much newer procedure. The first disc replacement procedure performed in the US was in 2000.

While there is much evidence to support long term effectiveness of disc fusions, disc replacements are much newer in contrast. However, we now have 20 years of disc replacement surgeries and  researchers are studying the long term effectiveness of the procedure. Their studies have shown long term effect of disc replacement to be positive, possibly even better than disc fusions.

Approach to Pain Treatment

Much of the pain we experience from our spine can be attributed to the movement of the joints. Movement can cause bones to rub together or put pressure on sensitive nerves. With a joint fusion, the problematic joint can no longer move, or create pain. With disc replacement, the offending joint can still move and the patient experiences no loss of mobility post-op.

Recovery Time

The recovery times for disc fusion and disc replacement surgeries is similar. A patient undergoing either of these treatments will typically leave the hospital the same day or the following day. A soft collar may be used for a short time after surgery to aid in healing. Patients can typically return to work 2-6 weeks after surgery, depending on their job.

Disc Fusion vs Replacement: Summary

Disc replacement and disc fusion are different surgical methods used to treat similar conditions. Their approach differs slightly but recovery time and effectiveness has been shown to be comparable. If one of these surgeries is recommended, your doctor can discuss with you why one may be more suitable for you than the other.




*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery