Lumbar Disc Replacement

Lumbar disc replacement surgery substitutes an artificial disc made of metal and plastic for a painful degenerated disc in the lower back. This is a major surgery requiring general anesthesia and a hospital stay.

Your doctor might recommend lumbar disc replacement surgery if most of your back pain comes from one or two discs in your lower back. The best candidates aren’t excessively overweight, don’t have scoliosis or significant compression on spinal nerves and haven’t had previous spinal surgeries.

The procedure

The surgical staff will position you on your back and give you general anesthesia through an IV line in your hand or arm. Usually an orthopedic or neurosurgeon and a vascular surgeon work together on the operation. They make an incision through the abdomen, then retract the organs and blood vessels to give them access to the spine.

The surgeon cuts out the problem disc, paying special attention to preserve the bony end plates where the artificial disc will rest. The surgeons insert the artificial disc, then put all the organs and blood vessels back in place before closing the incision.


Since this surgery doesn’t require bone grafts like in a spinal fusion, recovery may be faster. But patients will still need to take it easy for a while. They might need pain medication. Usually the hospital staff encourage the patient to stand and start moving around within a day of surgery. A physical therapist teaches the patient gentle trunk twists and other exercises. Jarring motions are prohibited for at least a few weeks as the surgical area heals.


While the lumbar disc replacement usually reduces pain, patients shouldn’t expect to completely eliminate it. And sometimes the implants go wrong. The artificial disc may break, loosen, dislodge or develop an infection in the surrounding area. The spine may feel stiff or rigid. If the patient’s activities are limited for too long, blood clots could develop in the legs.