Artificial Disc for treatment of low back pain offered at LLUMC
The CHARITÉ™ disc is a device that treats severe low back pain by replacing a damaged or worn out spinal disc with an artificial one.
The first U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved artificial disc is available to patients at Loma Linda University Medical Center, the first center in the Inland Empire to offer this treatment for low back pain.
The device, the CHARITÉ™ Artificial Disc manufactured by DePuy Spine, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company, is a high-tech replacement part for damaged or worn out spinal discs.
“The only artificial disc that has been approved by the FDA in the United States is the CHARITÉ™,” wrote Wayne Cheng, MD, orthopaedic surgeon at Loma Linda University Medical Center, in a column on the subject printed in the San Bernardino Sun newspaper. “This artificial disc was named after the surgeon/designer Dr. Kurt Schellnack and Karin Buttner-Janz, who first pe
Wayne Cheng, MD, orthopaedic surgeon at Loma Linda University Medical Center and assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at Loma Linda University, is certified in the use of the CHARITÉ™ Artificial Disc.
rformed this operation at Charité Hospital in Germany in 1984. Interestingly enough, Dr. Karin Buttner-Janz was a gymnast who won the Olympic gold medal for Germany in 1972. There have been approximately 8,000 SB Charité disc surgeries performed worldwide since that time. The long-term results published in Europe for this implant have been favorable.”
The CHARITÉ Artificial Disc is made of two metallic endplates and a movable high-density plastic center that is designed to help align the spine and preserve its ability to move. Spinal discs maintain the position of the spine and allow for the flexibility to bend and twist.
Lumbar spinal fusion surgery is a common surgical treatment for low back pain or degenerative disc disease. However, this procedure limits the range of motion for patients. In clinical trials comparing artificial disc replacement to spinal fusion surgery, patients with the CHARITÉ Artificial Disc maintained flexibility, experienced improvements in pain and function, and left the hospital sooner.
Dr. Cheng cites the main benefit of the artificial disc as reduced pain for the patient. If he can’t help the patient reduce pain by 80 percent or more, he won’t do the procedure.
“That’s the main goal,” says Dr. Cheng. “To reduce the patient’s pain.”
But besides the pain factor, the artificial disc offers a greater retainment of flexibility and offers a 30 percent reduced risk to the disc above the artificial replacement. In the traditional treatment of damaged discs, fusion, a greater amount of pressure fell to the disc above the fused area, leading into a cycle of disc degeneration. The artificial disc helps avoid this.
Close to 65 million Americans live with low back pain every year, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. More than $40 billion is spent each year on low back pain, the most common cause of job-related disability and lost work days.
Zoraida Rossi knew this all too well. A 35-year-old Rancho Cucamonga resident, Ms. Rossi had been living with back pain for the past five years.
“I wasn’t able to walk more than a few steps,” says Ms. Rossi. “The pain was so excruciating I had to sit down or stop moving to let the pain subside.” She tried many different options to relieve the pain, including epidurals and physical therapy. None of it worked.
In August of 2002, Ms. Rossi had enough and opted to have surgery to relieve the pain. She had a laminectomy, a back surgery where bone is removed to relieve pressure on nerves. But even this did not make the pain go away. In October 2004, Ms. Rossi had a second procedure, again to no avail.
By this time one of Ms. Rossi’s discs had bone grinding against bone, and a second disc was quickly degenerating to that point. She heard about the new CHARITÉ disc and knew she had to try it.
“It really is a life-changing procedure,” says Ms. Rossi after having a two-level replacement surgery by Dr. Cheng in February 2005. “I was up and walking with the help of a walker on the second day.”
In an interview in August, Ms. Rossi said her pain level had fallen tremendously. She is still in the middle of physical therapy treatments, but expects to be back at work before the end of the year.
“After physical therapy is done I will have even less pain than now, which is minimal,” says Ms. Rossi. “It was a little miracle.”
One of the benefits of the CHARITÉ disc is that previous surgeries don’t automatically rule it out as a treatment option.
“Most people think fusion is the only option after preliminary surgery,” says Ms. Rossi. “It’s not.”
Dr. Cheng notes that it is the scar tissue, not necessarily the surgery itself, that can be a counter-indicator.
“There’s no perfect surgery,” says Dr. Cheng. “There’s no magic cure. But this is a step forward.”
And for patients with the disc, it is a step with a lot less pain.