Artificial cervical disc replacement involves a surgical procedure during which a damaged intervertebral disc in your neck is replaced with a man-made disc. Disc replacement is an alternative to spinal fusion for some patients.
Unlike cervical spine fusion that permanently joins two vertebral bodies and stops motion at that level, an artificial disc mimics the movement of a human intervertebral disc. Some of the benefits of a artificial cervical disc replacement include:
- It preserves motion.
- It restores lost disc height.
- It stabilizes the cervical spine.
- It bears the weight of your head at rest and during movement.
- Shares stress during movement with intervertebral discs above and below.
Why might my doctor recommend surgery?
Am I a candidate for cervical artificial disc replacement?
Tell me about the surgery.
Cervical artificial discs
The construction of an artificial disc usually combines hard and soft materials, such as stainless steel and polyethylene. The artificial disc may be secured in place using bone screws. Some designs have spike-like surfaces that grip to the upper and lower surfaces of the vertebral bodies.
Keep in mind, most patients with neck and/or arm pain do not need spine surgery, spinal fusion, or disc replacement. Your neurosurgeon may consider spine surgery (with or without fusion or disc replacement) when …
- Non-surgical treatments, such as medication, physical therapy and/or spinal injections do not control pain and other symptoms.
- Nerve-related symptoms such as weakness, numbness, tingling sensations involve the arm(s) and/or leg(s).
- Pain and symptoms are progressive and become worse.
- It is difficult to walk.
- You have problems with balance.
- Your general health is good.
- You have no signs of arthritis, infection, osteoporosis (or other bone disease).
- You are not allergic to stainless steel.
Are you a candidate?
Your neurosurgeon knows if cervical artificial disc replacement is an option for you and explains why. If he recommends disc replacement, he educates you about the type of artificial disc, and benefits and risks associated with the device and the surgical procedure.
Your risks and complications may be different from those of another patient because you are unique. Your neurosurgeon takes that into serious consideration and thoughtfully explains potential risks to you, which may include infection, bleeding, reaction to anesthesia, and nerve damage.
Before your procedure
Before surgery, you visit your primary care doctor or general practitioner to obtain a general health clearance. This means your doctor has carefully evaluated your health in terms of undergoing surgery. Your assessment may include blood tests, x-rays or other imaging studies, as well as special tests for existing medical problems (i.e., diabetes, heart disease).
Artificial cervical disc replacement surgery is performed under general anesthesia. The procedure is similar to anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. Throughout your procedure, the neurosurgeon and his surgical team are kept current about your vital functions, including your central nervous system. Many different gauges, monitors, and equipment provide visual and audio feedback to the surgical team. Image guidance (real time x-ray; fluoroscopy) allows your neurosurgeon to see other views of the surgical field during (intra-operative) your procedure.
Basic surgical steps
- You are positioned face up on a padded operating table.
- Real time x-rays are taken to confirm the cervical level.
- Your neurosurgeon makes an incision in front of your neck. The skin incision may be made through one of the natural folds of your neck. This helps to disguise scarring.
- Muscle and other soft tissues are gently pulled aside to expose the intervertebral disc.*
- A discectomy is performed to remove the entire disc.
- The disc space and endplates are prepared to receive the artificial disc.
- If necessary, the spinal cord and/or nerve roots are further decompressed by trimming away bony overgrowths (bone spurs, osteophytes), thickened ligament and/or other tissues.
- The components of the artificial disc are implanted, and one or more intra-operative x-rays confirm the device is properly seated between the vertebral bodies.
- The incision is closed and dressed.
*This is typical of a minimally invasive surgical technique wherein muscles and soft tissues are not cut.
You are moved from the operating room into the recovery area. Here, the nurses and medical staff closely monitor your vital signs with attention to managing post-operative pain. You should expect some discomfort. You may have pain at the incision site, occasional neck muscle spasms, or other symptoms.
Your surgery is over, but now your recovery starts! If you do not understand your post-surgical instructions or a problem develops, please call us—we are here to help you.
Conventional post-spine surgery instructions
- Schedule your post-operative appointment (call 281.446.3876).
- Keep your incision dry and clean.
- You may shower, but keep your incision covered and dry.
- Rest; you will fatigue easily while your body heals.
- Do not take a tub bath, go swimming, or sit in a hot tub or pool.
- Begin physical therapy and/or exercise as instructed.
- Take medications as prescribed.
- Do not lift or carry anything heavier than a shoe.
- Walking is encouraged.
- Do not drive until cleared by your neurosurgeon.
- Avoid riding in a car; short distances are permitted.
- Do not smoke or use tobacco.
- Eat well, your body needs nutritious food to heal.
Call your neurosurgeon’s office (281.446.3876)
- Fever 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
- Redness and/or swelling around the incision site expands.
- Change in the amount, odor or appearance of the incision drainage.
- Incision pain increases.
- Bowel or bladder dysfunction develops.
- Genital area numbness develops.
Talk with your neurosurgeon
We hope this information about artificial cervical disc replacement has answered your immediate questions. Remember, your neurosurgeon is your most valuable source to answer your questions about symptoms, treatment and your healthcare.