Your Neck Pain May Need Surgery
Neck pain, specifically cervical spine pain, affects thousands every year. When medication, therapy, and other treatment fails, surgery is the only choice. If the problem is disc-related, there are a couple of options, namely cervical disc replacement and fusion. Patients should understand what happens with discs and the differences in each procedure.
What’s the deal with discs?
The intervertebral discs are an essential part of the spine. These discs sit between each vertebra and have tough fibrous tissue. Each disc forms a joint that allows slight movement in all directions. Together, the discs give the spine flexibility. More importantly, the fibrous discs have a gel-like center for shock absorption. The discs compress slightly under the weight of the head or torso.
Look out for these two conditions
For some persons, these discs can suffer damage, specifically in the cervical spine and lumbar spine. A herniated disc means that the disc shifts or slips out of place. The outer part degrades, allowing the inner part to poke through and affect surrounding nerves. Herniated discs generally happen through injury or wear and tear. Degenerated discs, on the other hand, become worn, losing elasticity, and making the spine unstable. This condition usually happens with age. If these issues persist, surgery may be the only result.
Turning to cervical disc replacement
With cervical disc damage, the neck is directly affected. A spine surgeon may opt for a cervical disc replacement. The goal is to replace the damaged disc with an artificial disc. One of the discs between the C4-C8 bones is usually at fault. To complete the surgery, the surgeon makes a small incision at the front of the neck. After shifting the surrounding tissue to expose the disc, the surgeon removes most of the damaged disc. The artificial disc is then inserted into space and the incision closed. Nurses then move the patient into recovery.
When two become one
In some cases, the surgeon will opt for fusion instead. The goal is to fuse the two vertebrae surrounding the damaged disc. This fusion makes one stable, stronger piece of bone. The surgeon accesses the spine from the front of the neck. The damaged disc is removed, called a discectomy. The surgeon will also remove any damaged bone or bone spurs. The disc is then replaced with a piece of bone from either a graft or donor. This bone allows the two vertebrae to fuse, forming one solid part. Recently, surgeons have been using metal plates and screws to hold the bone in place to allow healing.
Both procedures have benefits
The goal of both cervical disc replacement and fusion is to relieve pain. Both surgeries are successful in achieving this, with high satisfaction rates. By extension, both procedures remove part or all of the damaged disc. If movement is the source of the pain, the surgeon may opt for a fusion. If the disc is damaged, but the patient is otherwise healthy, a disc replacement may work best.
But beware of these differences
Both surgeries have the same result. But there are some differences and side effects to consider. For starters, disc replacement has a shorter recovery time. A patient may have a full recovery in just a few weeks. Fusion, however, can take several months for the bones to heal and fuse. That does not mean disc replacements are perfect. A disc may shift out of place or wear down after several years. Fusions also tend to limit mobility and may speed up disc degeneration in other parts of the spine.
It boils down to this
Both procedures are proven to relieve the pain that comes with disc degeneration. Having a solid idea of the pros and cons of each method helps patients make informed decisions. At the end of the day, the procedure depends heavily on the expertise and experience of the surgeon. Some prefer to stick with fusions, while others can perform either procedure. Speak with the surgeon for the best method based on the degree of disc damage.