Neck pain and associated arm pain secondary to pinched nerves in the cervical spine are common complaints many patients will experience. Fortunately, numerous conservative and non-operative options exist for these ailments: anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy, chiropractic care, and spinal epidural injections. If these options fail to provide adequate relief or if symptoms progress, surgery can be considered.
Traditionally, cervical surgery involves two major steps: (1) removing the offending disc that is pinching the nerve and (2) fusing the bones above and below the disc to stabilize the spine. This is usually performed with the use of plates, screws, and bone graft. This type of neck surgery is commonly referred to as an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF). Although all surgery comes with risks, an ACDF is highly successful. After undergoing such a procedure, many patients will have immediate relief of their symptoms with minimal post-operative discomfort. Furthermore, the pain relief can last a lifetime.
However, because a portion of the spine is now fused, the discs above and below the surgical site will bear more stress. Over a period of months to years, this increased stress to the adjacent discs can cause accelerated deterioration. And in some patients, this means a recurrence of symptoms that may need more surgery.
Advancements in neck surgery such as disc replacements can potentially decrease the risk for more surgery without compromising nerve relief. In a disc replacement surgery, similar to an ACDF procedure, the offending disc that is pinching the nerve is removed. But unlike an ACDF, rather than fusing the spine, an artificial disc replaces the damaged disc. This motion sparing technology aims to maintain the neck’s natural mobility. And in doing so, this decreases the stress at the above and below discs.
Not every patient is a candidate for a cervical disc replacement as many factors are considered. But for select patients, a cervical disc replacement is a great option with a simpler recovery, higher satisfaction rates, less, pain, and a quicker return to baseline activities. More importantly, recent studies suggest that with motion preservation, there is also a lower rate of adjacent level surgery.
Neck pain and nerve pain can be debilitating. It can adversely affect all age groups and all aspects of a patient’s life. Your physician or the physicians at OSS Health can help guide you through various treatment options to get you healthier and happier.
Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Dr. Amit R. Patel, an orthopaedic surgeon with OSS Health.