During the procedure, the surgeon makes a horizontal incision in the front of the neck to reach the spine. The problematic disc, along with any bone spurs, is removed to relieve the pressure off the nerves and spinal cord. An artificial disc is then implanted in between the vertebral bodies. Implanting the artificial disc preserves motion and function in the neck and may have the advantage of creating less stress on the remaining vertebrae.

Who is a good candidate for this procedure?

Currently, cervical disc replacement is performed in select patients with cervical disc stenosis or cervical disc herniation whose pain, weakness or disability fails to respond to conservative treatment.

Not everyone is a candidate for disc replacement surgery. A surgeon who is trained in both spine fusion techniques and disc replacement technology is the best person to determine the most appropriate surgical option for each patient. A consultation with the proper surgeon is crucial in making that determination.

Anatomy

The cervical spine is made up of the first seven vertebrae in the spine. Between each vertebra is a gel-like disc that acts as a shock absorber and provides a cushioning effect to absorb pressure and distribute stress. The spinal cord runs through a large central opening called the spinal canal. The nerves exist off the spinal cord and through small openings called the foramen. The nerves and the spinal cord can get compressed if the gel-like disc ruptures, or if the disc degenerates over time creating decreased space and bone spurs.

When is surgery recommended?

If you have worsening pain or weakness in your neck, shoulders, arms or hands resulting from a herniated or diseased disc that limits your everyday activities, and conservative measures have failed. Or if you are having worsening neurologic issues such as worsening balance and fine motor movements in your hands, you should consider surgery.

The type of surgery you have depends on many factors including your overall health, the location and severity of your cervical disc disease, and your pain and disability. It is very important that you are carefully screened by a surgeon who is trained in both spine fusion techniques and disc replacement technology to determine the most appropriate course of action.

What is the recovery time?

Because cervical disc replacement avoids spinal fusion, it may result in a faster recovery. However, as with all surgical procedures, specific recovery time varies by patient and demand. Symptoms of pain, numbness and weakness are often dramatically improved immediately following surgery. Most patients are able to go home the next day. A post-operative neck collar is not usually needed. The majority of patients return to light work within a week or two and are back to full activities and sports within six weeks.