Lumbar Disc Arthroplasty: All You Need to Know

Living with chronic lower back pain can be debilitating. It can significantly impact your daily activities, work, and overall quality of life. If you’ve been diagnosed with a damaged or degenerated disc in your lower back (lumbar spine), lumbar disc arthroplasty, also known as artificial disc replacement (ADR), might be a treatment option for you. This blog post dives deep into everything you need to know about ADR, from understanding the procedure to recovery and potential risks.

What is Lumbar Disc Arthroplasty?

The lumbar spine is made up of a series of vertebrae stacked on top of each other. Between these vertebrae lie discs that act as cushions, absorbing shock and allowing for some movement in the spine. When a disc degenerates due to age, wear-and-tear, or injury, it can bulge or herniate, pressing on nerves and causing pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs.

Lumbar disc arthroplasty is a surgical procedure where the damaged disc is removed and replaced with an artificial disc made of metal, plastic, or a combination of both. The goal of ADR is to:

  • Relieve back pain caused by the damaged disc
  • Restore the disc height and normal spinal alignment
  • Preserve some degree of motion in the affected segment
  • Improve overall function and mobility
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Who is a Candidate for Lumbar Disc Arthroplasty?

ADR is not suitable for everyone with lower back pain.  Here are some factors that doctors consider when determining candidacy:


Generally, younger patients (under 60) with isolated disc degeneration are better candidates as artificial discs have a lifespan and may need revision surgery later in life.

Cause of Pain: 

ADR is most effective for pain caused by a single herniated or degenerated disc. It’s not ideal for conditions like spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) or widespread disc degeneration.

Overall Health: 

You should be in relatively good health with no major medical conditions that could complicate surgery or recovery.

Bone Density: 

Strong bones are crucial for supporting the artificial disc. Patients with osteoporosis may not be good candidates.


Active individuals who desire to maintain a good range of motion in their spine might benefit more from ADR compared to spinal fusion (a different surgery that permanently joins vertebrae).

What are the Advantages of Lumbar Disc Arthroplasty?

Compared to traditional spinal fusion surgery, ADR offers some potential advantages:

Preserve Motion: 

ADR allows for some natural spine movement, improving flexibility and reducing stress on adjacent discs. Fusion restricts movement, which can lead to stiffness and pain in the long run.

Faster Recovery: 

Typically, patients experience a shorter hospital stay and faster recovery time with ADR compared to fusion.

Potentially Lower Risk of Adjacent Segment Degeneration: 

Fusion can increase stress on discs above and below the fused segment, potentially leading to future problems. ADR aims to maintain a more natural distribution of forces in the spine.

What are the Risks and Complications of Lumbar Disc Arthroplasty?

As with any surgery, ADR carries some potential risks and complications, including:

What to Expect During Lumbar Disc Arthroplasty

Lumbar disc arthroplasty is typically performed under general anesthesia. Here’s a general overview of the surgical process:

  1. Incision: The surgeon makes a small incision in the back to access the spine.
  2. Muscle retraction: Muscles are carefully moved aside to expose the vertebrae and the damaged disc.
  3. Disc removal: The surgeon removes the damaged disc material.
  4. Disc space preparation: The space between the vertebrae is prepared to receive the artificial disc.
  5. Disc insertion: The artificial disc is carefully implanted into the prepared space.
  6. Closure: The muscles and incision are closed with sutures.

The surgery typically takes 1-2 hours, and you might stay in the hospital for a few days for monitoring and pain management.

Recovery after Lumbar Disc Arthroplasty

Recovery after ADR involves physical therapy to strengthen your core muscles and improve flexibility. It’s crucial to follow your doctor’s instructions regarding activity restrictions and rehabilitation exercises. While recovery times vary depending on the individual, it usually takes several weeks to months to return to normal activities.

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Commonly Asked Questions about Lumbar Disc Arthroplasty

  • How long do artificial discs last?

The lifespan of artificial discs varies depending on the material and design.  Generally, they are expected to last for 10-15 years, but some may last longer.

  • What happens if the artificial disc wears out?

If the artificial disc wears out or malfunctions, you might experience similar symptoms as before the surgery, such as back pain, leg weakness, or numbness. In such cases, a revision surgery might be necessary to replace the worn-out disc with a new one.

  • What are the alternatives to Lumbar Disc Arthroplasty?

If you’re not a candidate for ADR, other treatment options for a damaged disc might include:

Non-surgical treatments: Physical therapy, medications, injections, and lifestyle modifications can often manage mild to moderate disc pain.

Spinal fusion: This surgery permanently joins the vertebrae above and below the damaged disc, eliminating movement in that segment. While it effectively addresses pain, it can lead to long-term stiffness and stress on adjacent discs.

Minimally invasive procedures: Techniques like discectomy (removal of disc material) or nucleoplasty (removal of disc core) can be considered for specific cases.

Lumbar disc arthroplasty offers a potential solution for chronic lower back pain caused by a damaged disc. If you’re considering ADR, discuss the potential benefits and risks with your doctor to determine if it’s the right treatment option for you. Remember, this blog post serves as a general overview, and it’s crucial to get personalized advice from a qualified healthcare professional.

Research on Lumbar Disc Arthroplasty

Studies show promising results for long-term pain relief and improved function with ADR. This is supported by patient satisfaction rates reported in eight studies, ranging from 75.5% to 93.3%. 

However, it’s important to consider that Lumbar Total Disc Replacement (TDR), another term for ADR, is a relatively new procedure compared to spinal fusion. While short-term results show satisfactory outcomes with few complications and reoperations, more long-term data is needed to fully understand the outcomes of ADR over a decade or more.

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How can I find a qualified surgeon for Lumbar Disc Arthroplasty?

Finding a qualified and experienced surgeon is crucial for a successful Lumbar Disc Arthroplasty. Look for a board-certified orthopedic surgeon or neurological surgeon with a proven track record in performing ADR procedures. They should be able to discuss the risks and benefits of ADR in detail and answer your questions thoroughly.

If you’re located in South Florida, consider consulting Dr. Matthew D. Hepler, M.D. Consistently recognized as one of the best spine surgeons in South Florida, Dr. Hepler offers advanced surgical techniques and personalized care to help you achieve long-term pain relief and improved function.  

Come see us at one of our convenient locations near you:

Schedule a consultation with Dr. Hepler today to discuss if Lumbar Disc Arthroplasty is the right option for you.

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.