Cervical disc replacement surgery replaces a damaged spinal disc with an artificial implant. This in turn may relieve arm pain, numbness, and weakness.
To help you understand the process for a disc replacement, below we have provided a detailed video walk-through of the procedure:
Your neck, or cervical spine, is a very delicate area of your body. It houses 7 vertebral segments separated by discs, and is supported by muscles and ligaments. It also contains the spinal cord, which sends messages from your brain to the rest of your body.
Each segment of your spine has a corresponding medical label. The segment highlighted above in purple is called the C6-C7 level. Damage to cervical discs is most likely to occur at this level and the 2 above it: the C4-C5 and the C5-C6.
Damage to your cervical discs can occur as a result of a variety of conditions, including a herniated disc or bone spurs (osteophytes). Both of these conditions can place pressure on your cervical nerve roots; a cervical disc replacement can relieve this pressure and the corresponding symptoms.
To begin a cervical disc replacement procedure, your surgeon will make a 1- to 2-inch incision in the front of your neck. Next, your surgeon will cut and move aside the thin platysma muscle (shown above in purple) which lies just beneath the skin.
Once your vertebrae are exposed, your surgeon will cut the annulus fibrosus, or outer coating of the disc, in order to remove the soft inner core of the damaged disc (called the nucleus pulposus).
In some cases, a small portion of your damaged disc may be left intact.
Your surgeon will then restore the disc space between your vertebrae to its normal height, making room for the new artificial disc.
Finally, X-ray guidance will help your surgeon insert the artificial disc into the disc space. There are many different types of commercially designed discs and materials from which to choose.
Cervical disc replacement surgery risks and expected outcomes
Artificial cervical discs are a relatively new technology, and so their potential long-term risks are not known.
However, evidence shows that less than 5 percent of patients need an additional surgery following a 4-to 5-year check-up from their initial cervical disc replacement surgery.
It is also important to note that an artificial cervical disc replacement is intended to preserve the current extent of the range of motion in your neck. In other words, the procedure will not increase your range of motion.
The good news is that you will likely be able to leave the hospital 1 or 2 days after the procedure, and soon you will likely be back to your normal activities.