In cervical disc replacement surgery, a diseased cervical disc in the neck is removed and replaced with an artificial disc. Cervical discs are the cushions between the vertebra in the neck area that absorb shock and allow you to move your neck. If the space between discs becomes too narrow, they can press on your spinal cord and/or nerves and cause pain, numbness and tingling in the neck, arms and hands. It can also cause neck stiffness and frequent headaches.

Cervical degeneration usually occurs in older men and women. Vertebral discs contain fluid to help you remain flexible. Over time, damaged discs can lose water content, which results in less cushioning and makes them more prone to cracks and tears. The deterioration makes them more susceptible to collapse, and the change in the alignment of the neck puts pressure on the cervical spine. Degeneration is a slow process that occurs over time. Many people may have mild cervical disc degeneration and never experience symptoms.

Are you a candidate for surgery?

Artificial disc replacement in the cervical spine is a newer option that has shown to be a safe and effective procedure. It is often used instead of spinal fusion surgery because it is minimally invasive and has better results. Neck mobility is preserved, and there is less of a chance for future degeneration at the site.

If you are suffering from chronic pain in the neck area, you should be evaluated by a board-certified spine orthopaedist to determine why. Depending on the results of your visit, you may be a candidate for cervical disc replacement surgery.

Here are the common reasons a physician may recommend the surgery, which is also known as disc arthroplasty:

  • You were diagnosed with cervical degenerative disc disease
  • You developed a cervical disc injury as the result of an accident or injury
  • You experience chronic pain that interferes with your daily life
  • Other non-invasive treatments have not been effective

Your doctor will also consider other factors to determine if you will be able to tolerate surgery and have a successful outcome.

How is cervical disc replacement surgery performed?

Disc replacement is considered major surgery and is done in a medical facility. It is a type of joint replacement procedure. Your doctor will review what you need to do before the surgery, which may include reviewing your current medications to ensure they will not interact with the procedure. You will not be able to have food or drink for a set number of hours before surgery to prevent complications with anesthesia.

After check-in and surgery prep, you will be hooked up to monitors to check your vitals during the procedure. After you are administered anesthesia and go to sleep, the surgeon will make a one-to-two-inch incision in the front or side of your neck, depending on the area of the affected disc. The damaged cervical disc is removed and the artificial disc is put in its place and attached to the two adjacent vertebrae.

The surgeon will use an artificial disc that fits the area, so sizes will vary with the patient. Your doctor wants to ensure the disc fits properly and allows space to be restored to the vertebrae. The incision is closed with stitches underneath the skin, and the top layer is closed with sutures to minimize scarring. The area will be covered with a bandage. Your doctor may recommend wearing a neck collar to restrict motion until you have healed.

What is the recovery from disc replacement surgery?

The surgery itself usually only takes about an hour, but you should plan to be in the hospital for at least a day. You will receive pain medication following the surgery to help minimize discomfort. You may have trouble swallowing, so you will be given a clear diet until you transition to solid foods.

Before you are discharged, you will receive information on aftercare, including how to clean your incision and how to manage your pain at home. You will need to take it easy the first few days after disc arthroplasty, as your body will need time to heal. Short walks are encouraged as you gradually get back to your normal routine.

Your doctor will want to see you again in several weeks for X-rays and an examination of the incision. They will ask about your pain levels to ensure recovery is going as expected. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help you regain neck strength and stability.

Recovery varies from person to person. Some people can return to work soon after surgery. People with more strenuous jobs may be advised to wait longer before going back to work. Within four to six weeks, you should be fully recovered and ready to resume normal activities without chronic neck pain.

Replacement disc surgery in the Triangle

Cary Orthopaedics has the region’s only comprehensive Spine Center with a full team of board-certified spine orthopedists. Our surgeons are highly trained in cervical disc replacement, as well as nonsurgical treatments. If you are tired of dealing with chronic neck pain, call our office to schedule a consultation today.