There are many different back and neck problems, and a variety of treatments for each. Though conservative treatments are always the first approach, there are some situations for which surgery is clearly indicated. This is especially true when the discs between the spinal vertebrae have actually degenerated as a result of injury, age, or genetics.
Symptoms of these types of conditions include arm pain, shoulder pain or neck pain. Though the traditional surgical approach for this condition has been spinal fusion, today there’s a better option: artificial disc replacement.
While spinal fusion does provide relief of pain and is an approach that has proven successful in the past, it is not without its drawbacks, and artificial disc replacement is quickly outstripping it as the treatment of choice.
Fusion effectively locks two (or more) of the spines vertebrae together, preventing them from slipping out of position and causing pain. The vertebrae are designed to move and provide flexibility, and once they’ve been fused together much of that function is lost. This can have a permanent and irreversible impact on the way that the patient moves. It can also lead to the discs above and below the fusion spot degenerating faster than they otherwise might have. This can lead to even more pain, and more intervention down the road.
Though spine surgeons have long wished for the ability to replace a degenerated disc, believing that it would provide patients with greater relief and more flexibility, until recently there was no suitable material to use as a replacement.
With the recent development of revolutionary new substances from which to form discs, surgeons are now able to insert substitute discs for those that have broken down, reducing damage to the nearby vertebrae and joints. The replacement discs allow the back to retain its innate flexibility and to distribute weight along the spine in the way that nature intended.
When an artificial disc replacement surgery is performed, a small incision is made in the front of the neck and the internal structures are moved to the side to allow the physician access to the area that has degenerated or been damaged.
The diseased disc is removed and the artificial one is put in place, and then the surgeon closes the incision. Though the procedure sounds complex and intimidating, it is relatively straightforward and allows for a much shorter recovery period. Most patients are able to go home either on the same day as their procedure or the next day, and there are very few restrictions on activities.
Perhaps most importantly of all, the relief from the symptoms of the degenerating or damaged disc are eliminated almost immediately, providing a significant improvement in the patient’s quality of life.
If you have been experiencing symptoms of cervical disc degeneration and would like more information on whether you are a candidate for artificial disc replacement, contact our office to set up a time for a consultation. Our experienced spine surgeons will provide you with a high level of care, and all the information you need to provide you with the best possible outcome.