Cervical Disc Replacement
The cervical spine is the top 7 vertebrae that make up your neck. This area is made up of vertebrae and discs. This is also the area where many nerve roots are located. Because of this, when something is wrong with the cervical spine, it can be pretty painful. As we age, our vertebrae might crack or grow bone spurs, and your discs might become hard, shrink, or tear. These can cause pain in the spine and the surrounding nerves, and can even cause loss of motion or feeling in the extremities. Most people can experience relief through other treatments, but for some people, surgery may be the best option for them. The most common surgery done on the spine is cervical disc fusion, but a newer surgery that has been growing in popularity is cervical disc replacement.
Cervical Disc Replacement vs. Fusion
Each of these surgeries are different but solve the same problem. There are several different pros and cons to each surgery because they have varying procedures. Both of these surgeries are performed through an incision in the front of the neck, then the internal organs and tissues are moved out of the way to expose the spine. After this, they differ greatly.
Fusion of the Spine
When a surgeon performs a cervical spine fusion, they first place a special retractor that will hold the surrounding vertebrae in place. They then cut away the diseased disc, leaving the spinal column exposed. At this point, the surgeon cuts grooves in the vertebrae above and below the area the disc used to be, and then places a bone graft in between. This will grow into the vertebrae and keep the spine from moving. The doctor then places a metal plate and screws it into place, which should keep the spine together while the graft heals. This is a very effective surgery, but it can also cause a loss of mobility in the neck and spine. It is also pretty restrictive during the healing process as you have to be extremely careful while the bone graft is becoming cemented with the surrounding vertebrae. However, it does work quite well and has been done for quite some time!
When a surgeon performs a disc replacement, they place a different kind of retractor, then cut away the diseased disc. They then insert two metal plates that are attached directly to the bottom of the vertebrae above the diseased disc, and a second one on top of the vertebrae below. These are attached through no screws or chiseling, but they have strong metal teeth which hold them firmly to the vertebrae. The surgeon then inserts a special medical-grade silicone replacement disc in between the metal plates. This artificial disc is meant to directly replace the diseased disc in that it can move in the same way that real spinal discs do, and it gives the person a range of motion that is nearly identical to before the surgery. The metal plates also have a special coating that helps the vertebrae to grow and attach themselves to the metal plates over time, further cementing them into place. There are no screws or large plates to hold it into place, so there is no fusion at all taking place.
Taking good care of the incision and neck area is extremely important after this surgery, as you don’t want to cause any damage as you heal. The incision site must be kept clean as it heals to prevent infection. It is also recommended to avoid heavy labor and to keep the neck stable as it heals. You may experience some soreness in the throat and tissues of the neck.
Cervical Disc Replacement Rehab
Two weeks after the surgery, the patient needs to return for a follow up appointment. The doctor will take x-rays and make sure that the disc is still in place and that there are no serious concerns. They will also check the incision site and make sure it is healing properly. If there are stitches, they are usually removed at this appointment. If there are any concerns, the doctor may also recommend a bout of physical therapy after 4 weeks so that the neck can regain full mobility. Most of the time, no further rehabilitation is needed, except if there is any injury or severe straining of the neck during the main recovery time. This can cause more serious problems that might need a second surgery to reposition the implanted disc or other measures.
Options for Cervical Disc Replacement
If you are considering surgery for diseased discs, make sure to make an appointment and meet with an orthopedic surgeon beforehand. This can help you to be sure that this option is right for you, and they can discuss the pros and cons of cervical fusion vs disc replacement. Disc replacement may not be right for you. If you are experiencing severe cervical pain, surgery may be the right option, but always exhaust all options for treatment before choosing surgery. There are many different ways to relieve cervical pain. Always consult your doctor with any questions, as they are there to help you!
Only a doctor can tell you if you have this ailment. This is for informational purposes and should not be used in lieu of a doctor’s opinion.