Cervical Disc Replacement Surgery: Indications, Technique


You’re such a pain in the neck.The author of this expression must be one of the many individuals who suffer from chronic neck pain.In fact, 2/3 of people will suffer from some kind of neck pain in their lifetime. The main component of the neck, or the cervical spine, is the seven bones or vertebrae that allow us to twist, bend, and turn our necks.As we age and have years of repetitive motion under our belts, the structures of the vertebrae begin to deteriorate which can cause pain and the inability for motion. This process is called degeneration.Particularly in the neck, the cervical discs, the cushioning between each vertebra whose main roll is to act as shock absorbers that allow fluid mechanics, can become most vulnerable to degeneration.Degeneration of the cervical discs is more commonly known as Cervical Disc Disease.This disease can manifest itself in many ways and its main symptoms can include pain, stiffness, and extremity numbness.Treatment for this disease can vary just like its symptoms.While mild cases can be treated with over-the-counter pain medicines, other more extreme cases will require surgery. Mild cases can be treated with more holistic measures.  In the beginning stages of the disease, anti-inflammatory drugs can be used to alleviate pain.In addition to medication, other patients supplement their treatment with exercise, chiropractics, and physical therapy.

But sometimes this is not enough to diminish symptoms.When the condition has gotten out of hand and begins to disrupt the daily life patients, typically they turn to surgical methods. Surgery can be a scary thing to consider.  But once you have run out of options and the less invasive options do not relieve your symptoms then it is time to consider going under the knife.Traditionally, the only real option patients have had is spinal fusion.  Spinal fusion is when the diseased disc is removed and with the help of bone grafts to maintain proper height, the healthy neighboring discs will be fused back together.  But according to an article published by Mayo Clinic staff, this procedure can cause strain on the portions of vertebrae above and below the fused section and in turn can speed up the time for those parts to degenerate.So what has replaced spinal fusion? The alternative to spinal fusion is cervical disc replacement. The relatively new procedure is done by removing and replacing diseased disc in the spinal column with an artificial motion device.  The main goal of this procedure is to maintain movement of the spine and neck. Even though this surgery is still in its infancy, there is much to learn with this fascinating procedure and the benefits and risks should be weighed before following through with the procedure.

When considering cervical disc replacement surgery patients must understand there are some risks involved.First, like any surgery patients run the risk of infection, blood loss, and paralysis.Though rare, these risks can be severe.   Second, since the procedure is fairly new doctors can only project the outcomes patients will have decades after their surgeries.  For example, one question might be how the wear and tear of the device will affect the patient down the road. The answer can only come from theory, not actual data. Another risk is how the body will react to the artificial disc that is implanted.Like any foreign object that is introduced, the body can have an allergic reaction to the unfamiliar material. Lastly and maybe the most devastating risk, is that even though a patient has the surgery does not mean it will relieve and can even worsen the painful symptoms.But even though there are risks to the cervical disc replacement, many doctors are taking this approach because of the multitude of benefits.  First is the recovery time.In a study conducted by researchers at  Washington University at St. Louis, patients who have had the replacement surgery over the fusion have had faster recovery time.This study’s results have been mimicked by a trial done by Medtronic, makers of the artificial disc Prestige.

That trial found that 26.2% of their patients in the disc replacement group returned back to work faster than the ones that had spinal fusion.Also, in contrast to spinal fusion, studies have shown patients are less likely to need additional surgeries.Since the disc is acting in the place of the diseased disc there is little to no stress on the neighboring vertebrae. Lastly and maybe the most over looked benefit, in one article by Science Daily, cited that hospital cost for replacement surgery patients are 49% lower four years after the procedure than patients who opted for the fusion surgery.  At the end of the day, it is up to the patient with the debilitating condition to make up their mind about their plans on how to deal with their daily “pain in the neck”. Some might choose more mild solutions like drugs and other holistic treatments. But others in more dire straights will need to consider going under the knife.  In any case, if a patient chooses to go down the surgical path research and doctor consultation will guide them in making the best decision in finding relief.

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