What is cervical disc disease?

Cervical disc disease, also called degenerative disc disease (DDD), occurs when the discs in the upper spine (neck area) have undergone degenerative wear and tear (often caused by arthritis). As we age, the cushioning discs between the vertebrae can become dry and dehydrated. The discs can lose height and its ability to absorb the shock between the bones. Osteophytes (bone spurs) can develop, causing additional changes in the health of the spine. Cervical disc disease can cause other conditions such as a cervical disc herniation or cervical spinal stenosis. Cervical disc disease can lead to inflammation, muscle spasms and severe pain. Advanced cases can cause pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots, leading to numbness in the extremities, weakness and further neck pain.

What is a cervical disc replacement?

In the past, most surgeons would surgically correct cervical disc disease by replacing the disc with an artificial material and fuse the upper and lower vertebrae together. A potential problem with fusion can be the propensity for adjacent bones to degenerate above and below the fusion. (Also called adjacent level disease). Newer technology and the advancement of replacement materials and methods have now made it possible to replace the disc without fusing the vertebrae together. Similar to joint replacement materials, modern cervical disc replacement materials are made of high-grade plastic and metal and can maintain the neck’s natural movement. The experts at BICMD have had extensive successful experience with cervical disc replacement and can explain the best options for you during a telemedicine visit. There are many different options for treating cervical disc disease and you can trust our “Best-in-class” orthopedic spine specialists to have the most advanced information for your specific condition.

How is a cervical disc replacement surgery performed?

The goal of cervical disc replacement surgery is to remove the diseased disc that is pinching the nerve or pressing on the spinal cord and replace it with an artificial disc. The removal of the disc is called a discectomy and can be done through a small incision in the neck (either from the front, called anterior discectomy) or from the back of the neck (called posterior discectomy). The area is cleaned and all bone anomalies, like bone spurs, are removed and it is prepared for the placement of an artificial disc. An artificial disc is placed and is designed to mimic the properties of a healthy disc. The type of artificial disc implant can vary greatly from surgeon to surgeon and it is important for you to talk to a specialist who understands the difference and can direct you appropriately. Our orthopedic spine specialists can offer the best second opinion and advice for the best treatment.

What are the benefits of cervical disc replacement?

There are several benefits patients experience when choosing a cervical disc replacement including:

  • Pain relief when the disc no longer presses on the nerve or spinal cord
  • More natural neck motion and mobility that fusion usually limits
  • Reduction of the risk for adjacent level disease
  • Quicker return to neck movement after surgery

What are the risks or downfalls of cervical disc replacement?

Cervical disc replacement or artificial cervical disc replacement is not appropriate for all patients. Individuals who have advanced spinal degeneration, bone weakness, or a serious underlying medical condition are not good candidates for a disc replacement.

For patients who qualify for a cervical disc replacement, there are some rare, but possible risks including:

  • Infection
  • Bleeding
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Spinal cord or nerve damage
  • Damage to esophagus, trachea, blood vessels or other surrounding tissue

How long is the recovery after cervical disc replacement?

Unlike a cervical fusion, earlier neck movement is possible. For healthy patients without underlying medical conditions, a return to work can occur in 2 to 3 weeks. Full recovery can be expected in about 3 months. Future restrictions may apply if one’s job or activities are particularly taxing on the neck or cervical vertebrae.

For more information and resources on cervical disc replacement or artificial disc replacement surgery, or to obtain an expert 2nd opinion before having a surgical procedure, please contact our orthopedic spine surgeons and specialists, by clicking on “Connect With a Doctor.” You will be connected to one of our orthopedic telemedicine experts through our state-of-the-art telemedicine platform.