There are seven bones in the cervical spine called “cervical vertebrae,” and they are stacked on top of each other. The discs are the cushions between the vertebrae. They act as shock absorbers so the neck can freely move. The cervical spine also contains a protective tunnel that allows the spinal cord to pass through. This means there are many nerves present in the area, and these nerves allow the movement and sensation of the upper body.
If you have to have cervical disc replacement surgery, the affected cervical disc has to be removed and replaced with an artificial disc. This surgery is necessary when the space between the vertebrae has become narrow or part of a cervical disc is pressing on spinal nerves or the spinal cord. Compression can cause numbness, pain, or weakness. Nonsurgical treatment is tried first, but that doesn’t always work, which is why surgery exists.
Using an Artificial Disc
The artificial disc is a new type of treatment that was recently FDA approved. The traditional surgery involved fusing two cervical vertebrae together. Disc replacement surgery can allow for more movement than fusion, creating less stress on the rest of the vertebrae in the cervical spine.
Reasons for Disc Replacement Surgery
When space is lost between the cervical vertebrae because of wear and tear or cervical disc degeneration, issues result. Age can also cause the discs to bulge and collapse. By the age of 60, it is common to see more problems. The symptoms can include:
- Neck stiffness
- Neck pain
- Weakness in the arms, hands, shoulders, or legs
- Numbness in the arms
- Pain that travels from the next to the shoulders and then to the arms
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to seek medical help as soon as possible. Any issue with the cervical spine can turn into something much more serious if the proper treatment isn’t administered.
Risks of Cervical Disc Replacement Surgery
Disc replacement surgery is considered generally safe, but every type of surgery has risks. The risks and benefits will be explained to you before surgery. They may include:
- Spinal fluid leak
- Difficulty swallowing
- Continued pain
- Nerve injury
- Voice changes
- Difficulty breathing
- Need for additional surgery
Risks can be specific to the patient depending on the extent of the condition and any other special circumstances surrounding the case. It is important to discuss these potential issues with your surgeon before having the surgery.
About the Procedure
Just like with any surgery, you will be given fluids and medication to help you relax and go to sleep. The procedure is usually done under general anesthesia. A tube may be placed in your throat to protect your airway. You are monitored, a small incision is made, the bad disc is removed, the artificial disc is implanted, and the incision is closed. Recovery time is generally short. You might need a support collar to wear while you’re in the hospital and you may need pain medication, but you will be encouraged to get out of bed and move around as soon as you are able. In many cases, a good quality of life can be restored.