Living with persistent neck pain can be a challenge, and can impact many different areas of an individual’s life. Fortunately, there are ways to address neck pain, giving patients a chance to regain full mobility and eliminate pain. The team at Rocky Mountain Brain & Spine Institute would like to offer the following information on cervical artificial disc replacement.
Anatomy of the Neck
The supportive and protective structures of the human neck consist of seven cervical vertebrae, which are stacked atop one another and separated by discs. These discs function as cushions between the bony vertebrae, absorbing shock and allowing the vertebrae to move. The discs are softer in the center, with a strong outer ring. Together, the cervical vertebrae and cervical discs create a protective space for the spinal cord, yet allow ample movement of the head. When a disc becomes damaged or degenerates with age, action must be taken to avoid further degeneration of the disc and increasing pain.
Traditional Surgical Approach for Cervical Disc Repair
There are two main surgical approaches to repairing a damaged cervical disc. One is known as anterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgery, or ACDF. This approach requires the surgical removal of the affected disc, followed by replacement using a bone graft. Metal plates and screws are used to hold the bones together while they heal. After a period of three to six months, the patient’s bone tissue should fuse to the newly introduced materials, creating a reinforced structure within the cervical spine. This is a very common procedure with excellent results, but leads to a slightly decreased range of motion and potentially accelerates degeneration of the above and below discs, also called “adjacent level disease.”
Artificial Cervical Disc Replacement
For many patients, a better outcome can be achieved through a different technique known as artificial cervical disc replacement or ACDR. This procedure involves the surgical removal of the affected disc, much like the initial stages of an ACDF approach. However, instead of inserting a bone graft, an artificial disc is inserted, which is designed to provide similar cushioning and mobility of a natural cervical disc.
What are the Benefits of ACDR vs. ACDF?
While both approaches can relieve pain and resolve nerve compression in the cervical spine, there are several reasons why cervical artificial disc replacement might offer a better fit for certain patients. For one, the procedure does not require a bone graft, which eliminates the risk that the graft will not “take.” When the body does not respond to a bone graft, the fusion portion of the procedure does not occur, and a follow-up surgery becomes necessary. Also, an artificial replacement procedure does not require the introduction of metal screws and plates into the body, which can reduce the risk of implant complications. Lastly and most important, preserving mobility with an artificial disc allows you to return to normal function quicker, avoids wearing a neck collar after surgery and decreases the risk of adjacent level disease.
How to Choose the Best Surgical Option
At Rocky Mountain Brain & Spine Institute, we believe that patients should be informed of all available treatment options, and guided in selecting an approach that is best for their particular set of needs. Our team welcomes patients who are suffering from neck pain to schedule a consultation to determine the source of discomfort and create a customized solution.