Steven Blazar, MD, associate chief of orthopedics at The Miriam Hospital and president of the Medical Staff Association, performed the first artificial disc replacement surgery in Rhode Island at The Miriam. The procedure, which corrects the agonizing pain of degenerative disc disease, was first approved by the FDA in October 2004. The operation involves removing the deteriorated disc and replacing it with an artificial one, made up of a sliding plastic core sandwiched between two metal plates. The new disc is as flexible as a natural one, ultimately allowing for a normal range of motion without pain.
Blazar's patient, a 29-year-old woman, had been experiencing chronic lower back pain that was not alleviated by any of the medical alternatives to surgery: medication, injections or physical therapy. Traditional spinal fusion surgery was the logical option. However, that procedure requires a much longer recovery period: six to 12 months, compared to the three to four weeks generally needed with artificial disk replacement before a return to driving and working is permitted. Blazar's patient, whose job involves intensive physical labor, will postpone a return to work for four months. Fortunately, she will not have to wear a back brace, which is necessary for spinal fusion patients.
Although the procedure is new to the United States, artificial disk surgery has been performed in Europe for more than 20 years.
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