Cervical Disc Replacement Surgery

Cervical disc replacement is a procedure that involves removing a damaged or degenerated cervical disc and replacing it with an artificial disc replacement.

The cervical disks are the cushions that lie between the cervical vertebrae on the spinal cord. These discs play an integral role in the movement and agility of the bones in the neck. 

Discs can become damaged for several reasons, including cervical disk herniation and bone spurs. As the discs become damaged over time, symptoms appear in the form of chronic neck pain, arm pain, and arm weakness. 

Cervical disc replacement surgery is intended to replace a damaged disc in the neck using an artificial disc implant, usually made of a combination of medical-grade materials, including stainless steel, titanium, and polyethylene fibers.

Artificial discs are designed to fit into the original disc space to support movement, flexibility, and absorb any impact to the spine.

Signs You May Need Cervical Disc Replacement Surgery

Cervical disks typically show signs of wear and tear in patients around 60. They can collapse and bulge, causing severe pain. Loss of space between the cervical vertebrae from disk degeneration is common. 

Many symptoms associated with neck pain can be combated and relieved with more conservative nonsurgical treatment options. Speak with your doctor first, but some options they may offer are:

  • Over the counter or prescription pain medication 
  • Heat and ice treatment and rest
  • Acupuncture and chiropractic treatments
  • Steroid injections
  • Physical therapy 

Like with many medical conditions, intervention is key in preserving the health of your spinal cord and the discs that support it. If you notice any prolonged neck pain or stiffness, contact your doctor right away. 

Other signs you may need a cervical disc replacement:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Headaches with associated neck pain
  • Pain that travels down into the shoulders and arms
  • Weakness of shoulders, arms, hands, or legs
  • Numbness in the arms, commonly called “pins and needles”

What Happens During Disc Replacement Surgery 

A surgeon will make a one- to two-inch incision on the side or front of the patient’s neck. The important structures of the neck are carefully moved to the side until the bones of the vertebrae and cervical disk are visible. 

The surgeon will locate the damaged cervical disc, and extract most (if not all) of it by making a small incision on the outer coating of the disc. Once the damaged disc is removed, the space between the vertebrae is restored to its normal height, making room for the surgeon to insert the artificial disc into the empty space, with the guidance of an X-ray machine.

Once complete, the incision is carefully closed with a few stitches under the skin to minimize any scarring on the neck. Patients also may have to wear a neck collar to restrict any motion. 

Recovery from Disc Replacement Surgery

Most patients stay in the hospital for 1-2 days after the procedure. Pain medication will be prescribed and a neck collar is usually worn for support for a few days. Because there was no bone grafting during surgery, recovery pain is relatively low and most patients return to their normal (with some restrictions) activities in a few weeks. 

As for pain, artificial disc replacement surgery is not a one size fits all solution for chronic pain. Recipients of this procedure have reported a dramatic decrease in pain, but it isn’t a cure-all. Be sure to discuss pain expectations with your surgeon before electing to have the surgery. 

Artificial spinal discs promise a better treatment option for those suffering from degenerative disc conditions and chronic pain. If you’re experiencing neck pain and alternative methods of treatment have not provided any relief, it may be time to explore cervical disc replacement surgery as an option.

Watch our Cervical Disc Replacement webinar here: