Fusion for a Cervical Herniated Disc

Question: Is There Another Option Besides Surgery?

I have been diagnosed with a C5-C6 cervical herniated disc that is compressing the spinal cord. Anterior cervical fusion surgery has been recommended with urgency. However, I am concerned that the discs adjacent to the fusion site may become vulnerable and that the fusion may not be successful.

What less invasive procedures can treat a cervical herniated disc affecting the spinal cord?

Article continues below

Doctor’s Response: Spinal Fusion For a Cervical Herniated Disc

There aren’t really any more effective options for a large cervical herniated disc with spinal cord impingement than anterior cervical fusion surgery. That is the bad news. The good news is that it’s a reliable surgery that usually leads to good results.

Spine fusion in the neck is not usually as bad as it is thought to be. Since there are many motion segments in the cervical spine, fusing one segment does not excessively limit the motion in the neck. Most patients with a one level fusion do not notice any difference in their cervical range of motion.

Likewise, a one-level fusion in the neck does not place considerably more stress on adjacent levels of the spine (which is thought to be the cause of the adjacent disc problems). In my own practice, I have done many one-level cervical fusions and only had a few patients come back after the surgery with a herniation at an adjacent level.

Part of what is hurting your spinal cord is the motion at the segment with the disc herniation. Without stopping the motion by fusing the spine, it can continue to move and injure the cord. A cervical discectomy with a fusion is generally a reliable procedure with an excellent track record. It is generally considered the gold standard in surgical care for a cervical herniated disc that is impinging the spinal cord.

Although cervical artificial disc technology has come a long way in possibly replacing cervical fusion, as of the publishing of these responses, there are currently no FDA approved cervical artificial disc devices available on the market. However, there currently are at least four FDA-approved trials testing artificial disc technology.

Recommended Articles:

In Spine-health’s Doctor Advice section, physicians respond to frequently asked questions about back pain issues. These responses represent the opinion of one physician, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the broader medical community. The advice presented has not been peer reviewed by Spine-health’s medical advisory board.

Written by Medical Reviewer