You Haven’t Got Time For The Pain
New Treatment for Degenerative Disc Disease
Deborah Coker suffered from back problems for years. She describes her struggle as a roller coaster of pain.
“I had pain in my lower back that radiated to the left. Little stresses made it worse and sometimes if I moved the wrong way it would go out. It felt like something just snapped like a twig,” said Ms. Coker.
After one such episode, the pain was so severe that she visited her local emergency room. This visit began several years of treatment for degenerative disc disease. Ms. Coker tried medications, physical therapy, and chiropractic care, among other remedies. Nothing seemed to help.
But now an innovative disc replacement device is giving new hope to patients like Ms. Coker. AAMC neurosurgeon Brian Sullivan, M.D., of Maryland Brain and Spine, recently replaced Ms. Coker’s damaged disc with a Charite Artificial Disc, developed in Germany by orthopedic spine specialists. According to Dr. Sullivan, the Charite Disc is an exciting development in the treatment of degenerative disc disease and other spinal conditions.
“This device will revolutionize spinal surgery the way joint replacement devices like hip and knee replacements revolutionized orthopedics,” said Dr. Sullivan.
Before devices like the Charite disc were available, spinal fusion was virtually the only surgical option for treating certain conditions. In a fusion procedure a portion of the spine is immobilized, or fused, to the portion above or below it. The restriction in movement can cause stresses on other areas of the body.
But the Charite Disc allows for more natural movement of the spine. The three-piece device consists of a plastic core sandwiched between two metal end-plates. The endplates are secured to the discs above and below with small gripping teeth, and the core slides between them. This allows patients with Charite implants to flex their spines, bending forwards and backwards more comfortably.
In addition to allowing motion of the spine in the implant area and maintaining the stability of the spine, the Charite Disc restores proper disc height between the vertebra above and below the replacement, re-establishes the alignment of the damaged spine, and reduces discogenic pain. AAMC is one of the first medical centers in the nation where accredited physicians can perform disc replacements using the Charite device. (Dr. Sullivan’s partners, neurosurgeons Timothy Burke and Gary Dix, will do the operations as well.)
The Charite disc was approved by the FDA in October 2004 after two years of clinical trials in the U.S., although it has been used in Europe and worldwide for more than fifteen years. Similar devices (including the Bryan Disc for the cervical spine, for which AAMC is a clinical trial participant) are promising alternatives to traditional surgery.
Dr. Sullivan noted that Charite disc replacement, like any highly advanced procedure, is not applicable to all cases but meets the specific needs of certain patients. But, he said, “it’s exciting to have these devices in our repertoire. I think we’ll be seeing more and more eligible patients—many people could benefit from this technology.”
Several weeks after surgery, Deborah Coker couldn’t be happier. “I’m walking around. I am 80-90 percent pain free, and my recovery isn’t even complete,” she said.
Ms. Coker said she hopes that many more people can be helped by these spinal devices. “This surgery has made such a difference to me,” she said. “I am so impressed with the whole team at AAMC, and I feel fortunate and blessed to be involved in a new and exciting situation.”
For a physician referral or to learn more about artificial disc replacement and other conditions related to the spine, contact askAAMC at 443-481-4000.