Cervical disk replacement is a treatment for chronic neck pain and other symptoms caused by deteriorated or damaged disks in your cervical spine, like arm pain, numbness, or weakness. Your surgeon removes a damaged or diseased disk during the procedure and replaces it with an artificial one.
It’s a relatively new surgical procedure. Modern cervical artificial disk replacement (C-ADR) first debuted in 1991, with the Bristol/Cummins disk, the first of numerous articulating C-ADR devices. (Evidence-Based Spine-Care Journal)
How Does Cervical Disk Replacement Help Neck Pain?
Your cervical spine forms the structure of your neck, comprised of seven bones (called cervical vertebrae) stacked on top of each other. In between these bones are cushions called cervical disks. Cervical disks act as shock absorbers that allow your neck to move freely. The whole structure surrounds and protects your spinal cord.
When cervical disks lose their ability to absorb shock and deliver proper support to your vertebrae, problems arise. Think of a car with a worn-out suspension – if there is no shock absorption ability, every slight bump in the road will feel like going over a speed bump.
The same is true when a cervical disk in your neck is damaged, diseased, or severely deteriorated. A damaged disk won’t be able to absorb shocks and give structural support and flexibility.
This dysfunction can lead to your vertebrae or cervical disk putting pressure on your spinal cord and spinal nerves. This pressure on your nerves causes pain, numbness, or weakness. Cervical disk replacement is a possible solution to this problem.
When is Cervical Disk Replacement Worth Considering?
Cervical disk replacement surgery may be a good option if your pain won’t respond to nonsurgical treatment classes.
Before developing this procedure, the bad disk was removed, and the vertebrae above and below the disk were fused to prevent movement. With fusion, your cervical vertebrae would stay fixed and not slip and impinge on your spinal cord.
While fusion solves the immediate problem of your cervical vertebrae and disks putting pressure on your nerves, it typically reduces head and neck mobility.
However, newer technology and materials have made cervical disk replacement possible (and even preferable) compared to fusion in the last twenty years. Made of medical grade metals and plastic, modern spinal disk replacement devices effectively maintain the neck’s natural motion.
Are There Risks to Cervical Disk Replacement?
Disk replacement is a new type of spine surgery, so there is limited information on possible long-term risks and outcomes. Still, the most extensive studies on cervical disk replacements have reviewed thousands of patients over seven years of clinical follow-up.
It’s essential to consult with experts to discuss the risks, benefits, and possible alternatives to disk replacement surgery. A qualified neurosurgeon will be able to guide you through the decision-making process and help with any unique circumstances you might be facing.