How Long Does an Artificial Disc Replacement Last?

As artificial disc replacement has become increasingly popular among candidates for spine surgery, you may be asking yourself, how long does an artificial disc last? It’s an important question, and fortunately, it has a satisfying answer: an artificial disc is likely to last you the rest of your life! Here we’ll explain how artificial discs can be a long-lasting to permanent solution for some spinal problems and what factors influence their longevity. 

What is the Purpose of an Artificial Disc?

An artificial disc is modeled after the natural or authentic discs (lumbar and cervical) that are part of the human spine. These natural discs are shock absorbers that rest between each of the spinal vertebrae so that as the back bends, rotates, and moves, the bones do not rub against each other. If a natural spinal disc degenerates, herniates, or is damaged, the increased friction can cause a number of unwanted symptoms, including severe pain, limited mobility, and long-term neurological damage. However, if an artificial disc is inserted to replace the damaged or herniated disc, it takes over the function of that disc and allows the spine to move naturally once again. An artificial disc can be surgically attached to the adjacent vertebral bones to provide the barrier that prevents them from rubbing against each other. This eliminates the strain on the spine and the accompanying symptoms. 

What is an Artificial Disc Made of?

Like joint replacements for the knee and hip, artificial discs for the spine can be made of different materials. Most commonly, they are made of metal or metal and medical-grade plastic, biopolymer, or ceramic. These materials are biocompatible, meaning they are safe for long-term use within the human body without causing harm or rejection.

How Long-Lasting are Artificial Discs?

Artificial discs are still a relatively new technological marvel, so there have not yet been decades-long or lifelong studies of individuals who had artificial disc replacement. However, the materials used to make artificial discs are specially designed to withstand the significant forces and stresses of the spine. They are put through rigorous testing and simulations to ensure their long-term durability and effectiveness. Experts have determined that they can last at the very least 10 years and most likely 40 to 50 years or longer. For most patients, artificial disc replacement should last them the rest of their lives.

What Factors Affect the Longevity of an Artificial Disc?

Several factors may influence the longevity of an artificial disc. These include: 

  • Age: Younger patients with more years ahead of them tend to put more strain on their artificial disc. This may have an influence on longevity.
  • Spinal Health: Patients with pre-existing spinal conditions or diseases may have a higher risk of complications or other spinal problems that could either affect the artificial disc’s lifespan or require additional surgery.
  • Activity Level: Patients who engage in high-impact activities (such as professional/contact sports or heavy lifting) may put more stress on the artificial disc, potentially leading to a shorter lifespan.
  • Surgeon Expertise: The skill and experience of your orthopedic spine surgeon can impact the success and longevity of artificial disc replacement. The surgeon you choose should be able to properly place the artificial disc and minimize your risk of complications. 
  • Disc Type: There are different types of artificial discs made with varying designs and materials, and some may last longer than others. It is important to discuss with your surgeon which discs they prefer to use and why, and which disc is most recommended for your situation.
  • Disc Location: The location of the artificial disc within the spine may affect its durability and longevity, as some areas of the spine are subject to more movement and stress than others. This is why it is important to work with an experienced spinal surgeon who can determine whether disc replacement is the best treatment for you based on the area of spine that is in need of treatment. 

Why Do Doctors Recommend Artificial Disc Replacement?

Artificial disc replacement is often the best choice for patients in need of spine surgery. Unlike spinal fusion, artificial disc replacement preserves the natural full range of motion in the spine. It can also help to prevent or delay adjacent disc degeneration (where the spinal discs above or below the surgical site wear down and cause additional problems). And research has shown that artificial discs are often highly effective in treating chronic pain caused by degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, or other spinal conditions that have not responded to conservative treatments such as physical therapy, medications, or spinal injections. Ultimately, the decision to recommend artificial disc replacement will depend on the specific patient and their unique medical needs.

If you need spinal surgery to correct a degenerative or herniated lumbar disc or cervical disc, artificial disc replacement is worth considering. This treatment can offer lifelong results that would significantly improve your quality of life, day-to-day function, and overall well-being. 

Dr. Stephen Pehler is a board-certified, fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon in the Denver area. An expert in artificial disc replacement, Dr. Pehler is dedicated to helping patients receive the best possible treatment customized for their needs. To schedule your consultation with Dr. Pehler, call 303-695-6060 or contact us online today.