Mayo Clinic Health Library

Question

Disk replacement: An effective treatment for low back pain?

Is disk replacement surgery an effective treatment for low back pain?

Updated: 12-11-2010

Answer

Very few people who have low back pain require surgery of any kind to obtain relief from their discomfort. But if conservative treatments haven't resolved your pain within six months and your doctor has determined that your disk joint is the source of your chronic pain, you might be a candidate for disk replacement surgery.

Spinal fusion — the most common type of back surgery for painful joints — involves fusing two or more vertebrae together. Disk replacement surgery is a newer procedure that replaces the problem disk joint with an artificial one made of metal and plastic.

In general, it appears that spinal fusion and disk replacement procedures are equally effective. But in some cases, intensive rehabilitation programs appear to work just as well as either type of surgery — at a lower cost and with fewer complications.