The spine is made up of a series of joints which are composed primarily of a disk which can degenerate over the course of time due to the fact that it's moving. Arthritis and general wear and tear can occur and eventually, the disk can break down. When this happens, the results are neck pain, low back pain, spinal cord compression, or nerve compression. This can manifest in a number of ways and cause a number of different symptoms.
In a lot of cases, we may be required to remove the disk surgically in order to treat the problem. Once we remove the disk, the space has to be filled somehow and we do this either through fusion or disk replacement.
In spinal fusion surgery, our goal is to immobilize the joint. In other words, to keep that joint from moving. Total disk replacement is when we place an artificial disk where the diseased disk used to be. This allows continued range of motion and movement at that disk or at that joint, which is what distinguishes it from fusion surgery. The major advantages of artificial disk replacement are that there's a much faster recovery, that the patient retains normal range of motion, and that there's less of a risk for degeneration of the other disks in the patient’s spine. Given this, it's always my preference to perform artificial disk surgery rather than fusion surgery.