Artificial Discs: November 11, 2011

Beating back pain is a constant struggle for many Americans, 46,000 of whom categorize it as debilitating. Including Jerrette Langford.

“It started out, probably about eight years ago. A horse flipped over on top of me and it crushed me.”

The fall crushed several discs in Jerrette’s back. He tried just about everything to buck the pain.

“We started seeing different doctors and getting MRIs but they couldn’t repair them. So we went and did a bunch of injections,” says Jerrette.

His next option was to consider spinal fusion.

“Typically, spinal fusion is a surgery where we remove the disc material and we basically fuse, or we join two of the adjacent segment vertebrae together,” says Dr. Dean Lin, a neurosurgeon with Lee Memorial Health System.

At 32 years old, Jerrette didn’t want to lose mobility in his spine. So he was referred to neurosurgeon Dean Lin for disc implant surgery instead.

“Newer technologies are available to preserve motion in the lumbar and cervical spine and those are disc replacements. For younger patients this is certainly a very viable option,” says Dr. Lin.

The FDA only approved artificial discs for a single level: Either the L4 to L5 or the L5 to S1. The approval also requires patients be 55 or younger.

“There are a lot of patients who are interested in the replacement as opposed to fusion. It is still a procedure that only works for a very select patient population,” says Dr. Lin.

Jerrette was a perfect match. Surgery rescued both his quality of life and his finances.

“I feel great now, I mean I don’t take pain medicine any more. We spent a lot of money out of pocket you know going in getting injections, and pain medicine and pain management.”

Researchers are moving forward too, working to make artificial discs available to even more people.