Cervical disc replacement surgery, a type of artificial disc replacement, can solve several causes of neck and upper back pain. When neck, back, or arm pain is caused by degenerating vertebral discs or pinched nerves in the upper spine, cervical disc replacement pain can provide profound relief. These conditions often cause pain, numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness that extends down the arm. If you have these symptoms, or have been diagnosed with cervical disc degeneration, it is worth considering cervical artificial disc replacement.
A cervical artificial disc replacement is a spine surgery procedure to remove a damaged vertebral disc and replace it with an artificial “joint.” There are many different types of artificial disc replacement. An artificial cervical disc is made of metals, and/or hard and soft plastics or polymers. Because a damaged cervical disc is often the source of pain, numbness, or tingling, once it is removed, pain is relieved. The artificial disc that replaces the natural disc, acts in much the same way as a natural vertebral disc. Once the patient heals after cervical artificial disc replacement surgery, the spine can rotate, bend, and flex without causing pain.
Your spine surgeon will make a 1- to 2-inch incision in the front of your neck. The damaged disc will be removed from the front, i.e., you will be lying face up during surgery. If there are any irregular areas of bone, your spine surgeon will smooth these areas, especially if they are pressing on nerves or the spinal cord. Once the area is prepared, the artificial cervical disc is placed between the vertebral bones above and below. After the spine surgeon is satisfied with the artificial disc’s placement position, the surgical wound is closed. In most cases, the procedure lasts 1-2 hours.
The two main surgical treatments for neck pain are cervical artificial disc replacement and anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. Both can relieve neck and upper back pain, but only artificial disc replacement preserves spinal motion in the neck. In anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, the damaged disc is removed, and the two vertebral bones are fused together. The spine is quite stable once the bones heal, but the spine can no longer bend, flex, or rotate at the fused area.
Simply put, if you are a candidate for cervical artificial disc replacement, then you should strongly consider it. As the motion-sparing procedure of the two, it is the better option for long-term mobility and function. Unfortunately, though, not everyone is a candidate for cervical artificial disc replacement. People who do not qualify for artificial disc replacement are left with only one surgical option: anterior cervical discectomy and fusion.
Like anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, cervical artificial disc replacement surgery is considered safe. Multiple clinical trials have shown that cervical artificial disk replacement surgery has about the same overall complication rate as anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. The usual risks of surgery and the risk associated with spine surgery are about the same in both procedures. In fusion, there is a small risk the bones will not fuse. In disc replacement, there is a small risk the device may not function properly if it’s poorly positioned by the surgeon. Device failure is extremely unusual as newer artificial disc designs have become available.
Recovery after cervical disc replacement surgery or artificial disc replacement usually takes 3-5 weeks. Initially you may experience some discomfort around the incision site, and perhaps some minor trouble with a raspy or hoarse voice or difficulty swallowing. While you may be able to go home the day of surgery, it is also possible you will spend a night in the hospital or surgery center. During that time, healthcare providers will help you manage your discomfort and monitor your eating, drinking, and physical activities. Within a week or two you will be able to return to light duty, and by two to three months you will probably be able to return to all of your previous activities.