UW Orthopedic Surgeons Offer New Treatment for Spinal-Disc Injuries

Artificial Disc, Genuine Relief

spine; Artificial discs offer genuine relief for patient's painMADISON - A ruptured disc can make a person realize how much of everyday movement is taken for granted – lifting a gallon of milk, taking an item off of a high shelf, playing with a child.
Thanks to an innovative spinal surgical technique now available at UW Hospital and Clinics, patients can regain their range of motion with the new artificial cervical disc system.

UW Health spinal surgeons Thomas Zdeblick, MD, Paul Anderson, MD and Greg Trost, MD, were key players in the original U.S. Food and Drug Administration trial that tested the efficacy of the discs in 2003. In early 2008, the FDA gave final approval for the discs to be used in standard practice. The surgery is appropriate for patients who have suffered a spinal injury, as well as those who suffer from degenerative spinal conditions.

For orthopedic surgeons, the artificial disc represents a major advance.
"We've been able to take a procedure we've been using for the last 40 years and replace it with something more effective," says Dr. Zdeblick, who chairs the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health department of orthopedic surgery. "Patients who undergo this procedure - cervical disc arthroplasty - are consistently reporting major improvement in their quality of life."

In the past, physicians would have treated patients with ruptured discs or spinal nerve impingements with a four to six-hour spinal fusion surgery, which can relieve pain, but also restrict mobility and place additional stress on surrounding vertebrae. Not only is the recovery time for the surgery lengthy -sometimes as long as three months - but many fusion patients end up returning for treatment within a few years after other vertebrae have broken down.

Cervical disc arthroplasty takes about 90 minutes. Similar to spinal fusion, the initial incision is made to remove the herniated disc. Instead of replacing the disc with a graft, however, surgeons insert a ball-and-socket joint in the spine.

"That's probably one of the biggest misconceptions about the discs," says Dr. Zdeblick. "People think they are soft inserts."

The inserted joint maintains the height of the disc, reducing compression, and also maintains the disc's mobility, so the patient's range of motion is restored. Recovery from cervical disc arthroplasty is quick, with patients in a soft collar for about a week and returning to driving and light activities once the collar is removed.

"Six weeks after surgery, we have patients returning to athletics and workout routines," Dr. Zdeblick says.

Candidates for Cervical Disc Arthroplasty
Cervical disc arthroplasty cannot be used for all patients with disc problems. The ideal candidate is younger than 60 years old with a single-level disc herniation. Those with multilevel herniation, severe deformity of the spine or severe spinal cord compression are often better served by spinal fusion or other options. Physicians with patients who may be appropriate for cervical disc arthroplasty at UW Health may fax the patient's most recent MRI report and all symptom and treatment information to the Spine Clinic at (608) 263-4995 for review.
Date published: 4/28/2008