Damage to your cervical discs can occur as a result of a variety of conditions, including a cervical herniated disc or bone spurs (osteophytes). Both of these conditions can place pressure on your cervical nerve roots, potentially causing arm pain, numbness, and/or weakness. Read on to learn how a cervical disc replacement may relieve these signs and symptoms.
Goals of cervical disc replacement surgery
A couple key goals of cervical disc replacement surgery include:
- Relieve spinal nerve compression. By removing the damaged disc and restoring the normal disc height, the painful spinal nerve root is decompressed and can begin to heal. The hope is that any neck and/or arm pain is relieved, and neurological deficits do not worsen, such as numbness or weakness. In some cases, numbness or weakness may also improve.
- Maintain motion at the repaired spinal level. Compared to fusion surgery, an artificial disc replacement maintains more natural motion at the spinal level where the operation occurs, which may mean less stress on adjacent segments.
In appropriately selected patients, studies have indicated that cervical artificial disc replacement relieves neck and arm pain about as well as ACDF surgery.1-2 Although, less data is available for cervical artificial disc replacement surgery because it’s a newer procedure compared to ACDF. In addition, people with more advanced spinal degeneration may not be good candidates for an artificial disc.
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.
Cervical disc replacement procedure
A typical cervical artificial disc replacement procedure involves the following general steps:
- A 1- to 2-inch incision is made along the front of your neck.
- The thin platysma muscle, which is just beneath the skin, is cut and moved aside.
- Once your vertebrae are exposed, the damaged disc can be accessed and removed. While most of the disc is removed, a small portion may be left intact.
- The normal disc space’s height between the adjacent vertebrae is then restored, which makes room for the artificial disc.
- Using X-ray guidance, your surgeon inserts the artificial disc into the open space between the adjacent vertebrae. Various types of artificial disc are available. Your surgeon may also try a few different sizes for the best fit. Afterward, the incision is sewn up.
Most people can return home 1 to 2 days after this surgery.
Potential risks of cervical artificial disc replacement
While cervical artificial disc replacement surgery is generally considered a relatively safe procedure when performed by a qualified medical professional, risks and complications may include:
- Nerve damage
- Failure to relieve pain
- Artificial disc may migrate or fail over time
Before choosing to have a cervical artificial disc replacement, ask your doctor about the potential risks, benefits, and potential alternative treatments. Spine surgery is typically not considered until nonsurgical treatments have been tried first.