Top 5 Questions I Am Asked As A Lumbar Total Disc Replacement Patient

By Cheri Phillips, PA-C

When I was in college, playing goalkeeper for the soccer team, I injured my spine while training with deadlifts in the school weight room. Then, during my 2002 senior year, I received two lumbar disc replacements as a participant in the clinical trial for the prodisc® L Total Disc Replacement.

Ultimately, since becoming a physician’s assistant (PA) supporting a spine surgeon, I’ve spoken with a lot of patients about their own journey as a back-pain sufferer. As a result, the below list is just some of the top questions people ask me—as a person supporting a spine practice, and as a total disc replacement recipient.

  1.  Do you have back pain since the surgery?
    No. Since I had the surgery almost 20 years ago (Dec 2002), I have had no pain after my recovery was complete. In the month after my surgery, I did have pain associated with the incision—but once that pain was resolved, I’ve had about two back-pain-free decades so far!

  2. Do you now do everything you want to do?
    Yes, except I don't run. Not because I am limited by my disc replacement, but because I have always hated running. Being a college goalkeeper, the day my surgeon said not to run I was ecstatic. However, I jump out of airplanes, I spin, I box, I work out with a trainer, I hang-glide, I body surf, and even tried board surfing recently!

  3. Was the post-surgery pain and recovery worth it?
    Absolutely. I was miserable for months after surgery, but this was mostly due to misunderstanding my own emotions and not giving my body time to heal. As one of many participants in the prodisc L clinical trial, the medical team and I learned through my experience—but as a learning experience I had no one to talk to who could explain how to get through the acute recovery phase.

  4. What is most important to know after a surgery like this?
    The most important thing to know after this surgery is to always try to keep yourself fit and watch for weight gain. In my case, I had gained 40 pounds when I first became a PA. With the long work hours and two hour commutes, I put on a substantial amount of weight and started to have discomfort in my lower back. Once my doctor and I saw x-rays and scans of my spine, we saw the discs looked great and the facets—or the pairs of small joints in between the vertebrae in the back of the spine—weren’t causing any additional pain. It was then that we realized the added weight was the cause of my discomfort, which went away once I lost the extra pounds!

  5. How has this surgery changed your life?
    In addition to getting out of horrible pain and restoring my ability to function at age 22, I met a physician’s assistant after my first spine surgery who encouraged me to become a PA, as well. I have been a spine surgery PA for 15 years.

Important Note: The patient information presented is for general education purposes only. As with any spine surgery, there are potential benefits, complications, and risks associated with disc replacement and spinal fusion procedures. Individual results may vary. It is important that you discuss the possible risks and potential benefits of various procedures with your doctor prior to receiving treatment, and that you rely on your physician’s best judgment. Only your doctor can determine whether you are a suitable candidate for a specific surgical procedure.

They Regained Their Lives

These individuals can inspire your journey to healing and life after disc replacement surgery—and the hope of freedom from spine-induced pain and discomfort.

Find a Surgeon

To Find a Spine Surgeon That's Right for You, Use our Surgeon Locator

Find a Surgeon Today