Cervical disc replacement is a technically advanced surgical procedure that is increasingly being used to provide relief from chronic neck pain. The top surgeons at the DISC Spine Institute perform cervical disc replacement surgery to treat neck issues including disc degeneration, disc herniation, and nerve compression in the neck.
It wasn’t all that long ago when there was only one surgical option for cervical degenerative disc disease or disc herniation. Thanks to technical advancements and impressive surgical techniques among some of today’s top spinal surgeons, like those at the DISC Spine Institute, patients have another option. Disc replacement surgery is considered to be a safe and effective surgical treatment for the relief of chronic neck pain.
During cervical disc replacement surgery, the damaged disc is removed and replaced with a motion preservation device, or artificial disc. The bone of the vertebrae eventually grows into the device’s surface, so it’s held in place. The main advantage of cervical disc replacement surgery is that it allows for flexion, extension, lateral bending, and rotation through the device. This is a significant difference from fusion surgery like Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) in which the discs are fused together, limiting motion.
There are several factors that may make cervical disc replacement surgery favorable over spinal fusion:
Improved mobility—The artificial disc used in cervical disc replacement surgery mimics the natural disc, which preserves spinal mobility and flexibility, as well as disc height.
Reduction in future cervical disc problems—Because fusion surgery limits mobility, it can put stress on the surrounding discs, causing further disc degeneration. Cervical disc replacement preserves movement, which minimizes the problem of added stress on other discs.
Safe and effective—Extensive studies have been done on the safety and short- and long-term effectiveness of cervical disc replacement surgery, with overwhelmingly positive results. Cervical disc replacement surgery eliminates the risk of complications resulting from bone grafts. While fusion surgery is still the most viable surgical solution for some patients, data shows fusions carry a higher incidence of reoperation.
Whichever type of procedure you have to address cervical pain, it’s critical that you work with a highly skilled surgeon with the experience and technical skill to perform advanced surgical procedures. Being in the care of one of the acclaimed surgeons at the DISC Spine Institute further increases the odds of having a safe and successful procedure that allows you to eliminate your chronic neck pain and get back to living.
Quicker recovery—Cervical disc replacements typically have a quicker recovery time than ACDF because you’re eliminating the fusion and bone grafts. While everyone is different, you can reasonably expect to return home within a day or so after a cervical disc replacement; some patients go home the same day. Patients can typically return to most activities in a matter of a few weeks to months, depending on the complexity of their condition and surgery.
Although there are conditions and other types of chronic neck pain that might necessitate cervical disc replacement surgery, there are two main culprits:
Degenerative Disc Disease—This occurs when the spinal discs that are located between the vertebrae lose their water content. It happens naturally due to aging and can also be caused by an injury. With Degenerative Disc Disease, the disc is rendered unable to act as a cushion because of the reduced water content; the result is extreme neck pain. Without the normal cushioning effect due to the desiccated or dried-out disc, there is added stress on the adjacent vertebrae. There also might be nerve compression, which can greatly increase the pain patients experience.
Herniated Disc—That desiccation has also been known to cause disc herniation. This is when there is weakening of the annulus, the outer rim of the disc, and the nucleus pulposus, the inner part of the disc, pushes out. Cervical disc herniation typically presents as severe neck pain. If there is associated pressure on the spinal nerves, there may also be excruciating arm pain.
Renowned spinal centers like the DISC Spine Institute and their two world-class surgeons, Dr. Mark Valente and Dr. Andy Indresano, are known as much for their surgical skills as they are to their commitment to conservative treatments for neck pain. Because they approach spinal care from a conservative point of view, they make every attempt to heal patients’ pain using non-surgical treatments first.
This typically involves a combination of rest, activity modification, home exercises, physical therapy, and medications. If a patient is still in pain after six months of conservative treatments, cervical disc replacement surgery is considered.
Studies show surgeons most often choose to perform disc replacement instead of ACDF because of anatomical factors. For instance, cervical disc replacement is only performed when just one or two cervical discs are problematic. In cases where there are more than two involved discs, fusion is likely the best option.
No matter which type of cervical disc surgery you have, make sure you seek out a leading spinal surgeon. While cervical disc replacement is a well-established surgical procedure, not every surgeon has the technical skill and training to perform it. DISC Spine’s surgeons are leaders in their field and are among a very small percentage of top surgeons around the world who have been specially trained to perform cutting-edge minimally invasive procedures.
Disc replacement surgery can also be performed on the lower back, or lumbar area, but cervical disc replacement is more common.
Symptoms you’ll want to look out for include:
During cervical disc replacement surgery, the surgeon makes a small incision, usually an inch or inch-and-a-half long, on the front or side of the neck and carefully protects the neck’s inner structure. The damaged disc is accessed and removed to be replaced by an artificial disc. Any bone spurs that have developed can also be removed at this time.
While each patient is different, they are typically up and around a few hours after their cervical disc replacement and are released to go back to work after about a week. If physical therapy is recommended, patients can typically start around the four-week mark post-surgery. Within six weeks, patients should be released to resume most activities. It’s important to remember no to do any heavy lifting, twisting, or bending until your doctor medically clears you.
The DISC Spine Institute puts tremendous emphasis on guiding patients through the recovery period after spinal surgery. The entire staff is committed to the health and well-being of its patients, providing continued recovery support with any necessary pain medications, muscle relaxants, support bracing, and metabolic supplements to aid in the healing of bones, nerves, and soft tissue, as well as topical scar healing medications and physical therapy, when indicated. In addition to Dr. Valente and Dr. Indresano, DISC Spine’s experienced assistants and midlevel providers provide an enhanced level of support to help guide patients all the way through the recovery phase.
Depending on how many levels and the location, could be outpatient or require an overnight stay in the hospital.
While not technically minimally invasive, care will be made to keep incisions and tissue disruption to a minimum.
This procedure will cause minimal blood loss with limited tissue disruption.
Patients are usually up and walking hours after surgery. Often back to work 1 week after surgery. No heavy lifting, twisting or bending for 6 weeks.
The procedure is approximately 60 minutes.
Not all patients and procedures are the same. The above is an example of what the typical patient can expect from some minimally invasive procedures.