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LOS ANGELES (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Degenerative disc disease is a painful and debilitating condition. The discs in the spinal column begin to erode. Fusion is one option but that leaves patients with less mobility. Now, a new procedure offers a better way, and it is entirely artificial.

Karl Nusch's life as a triathlete came to an abrupt halt two years ago. It happened during training for a triathlon. He says, "I started feeling the pain in my lower back going down into my buttocks and into my left leg." Nusch had degenerative disc disease. The lower part of his spinal cord was decaying. Spinal fusion was an option, but that would leave his back immobilized and in a brace for months.

Orthopedic surgeon John Regan, M.D., of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, says, "Fusion is actually a very good operation for an older patient who's not going to be as active, but especially in the young individual, it's just not a very good option. It's not the best option we have."

Dr. Regan treated Nusch with what he considers a better option, an artificial disc. The tiny metal sandwich with a plastic insert makes flexibility easy.

"I think this has the potential for being a quantum leap in the treatment of spine problems," said Dr. Regan.

Nusch isn't doing any leaping of his own yet, but a little more than a year after his surgery, he is trying to return to a normal routine. "I can swim with no discomfort. I can ride pretty much with no discomfort," said Nusch. "The running part is the part I'm taking really slowly."

While he may not be able to return to triathlons, Nusch hopes the new disc will at least help him get back in the race.

At present, the artificial disc is being used in clinical trials only, but if the results continue to be promising, Dr. Regan says the procedure should be widely available in the next two years.

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