Cervical Disc Pathology and Artificial Disc Surgery

Cervical degenerative disc disease of the spine is a fairly prevalent condition. Studies have shown that:

  • After age 40, almost 60 percent of the population has radiographic evidence of cervical spine degeneration
  • By age 65, 95 percent of men and 70 percent of women will have some sort of degenerative change that can be seen on X-ray.2
Degenerative Disc Disease and Degenerative CascadeLearn more about disc anatomy, degeneration, and the degenerative cascade.
Video: What Is a Degenerative Disc and the Degenerative Cascade?

Fortunately, many of these changes seen on X-ray images can be considered a general aging phenomenon and not pathological (problematic), as many people with degenerative changes do not have any pain or other symptoms.

Learn more: Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease

However, in some patients, the disc degeneration can result in a herniation of the disc and osteophyte (bone spur) formation. Some symptoms of disc degeneration include neck and radicular arm pain (“electric” pain that radiates from the neck down the arm and possibly into the hand and fingers). In addition to neck pain and/or arm pain, symptoms may include numbness, tingling, weakness, or clumsiness. These symptoms also may radiate into the arm.

There are many causes of disc degeneration:

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When Neck Surgery may be Considered

Most instances of pain or other symptoms from cervical degenerative disc disease and/or a cervical disc herniation will resolve on their own and do not require any type of interventional treatment.

Unfortunately, there are some cases that are resistant to nonsurgical treatments and require some type of surgical intervention. Most surgical strategies require an anterior approach to the cervical spine (from the front of the neck) and removal of the cervical disc along with the herniation. In the case of ACDF, the space that the disc occupied is then replaced with a block of bone that leads to a fusion of the two vertebrae in place of the disc. Reports in the literature indicate that, in the properly selected patient, this form of surgery can result in over 90 percent success rate.

See ACDF: Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion

There are two joints in the front of the cervical spine, called uncovertebral joints, and two paired facet joints in the back. This combination of joints allows a wide range of motion, while also providing sufficient stability, in the neck. The goal in cervical disc replacement is to remove the offending disc as well as maintain range of motion. The hope is that maintaining range of motion in the affected segment(s) of the neck can prevent the risk of adjacent level disease that can develop after ACDF.


  1. Gore DR, Sepic SB, Gardner GM, Murray MP. Neck pain: a long-term follow-up of 205 patients. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1987;12(1):1-5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3576350. Accessed November 17, 2014.