Although cervical disc replacement is a relatively new procedure, with the FDA approving the first spinal disc replacement only in July 2007, the procedure has been very successful with our patients at Texas Neurosurgery.
Here are some benefits to replacing the cervical disc rather than fusing two vertebrae together.
The goal of each procedure is to alleviate chronic pain, usually that has endured over six months and is not responding to other treatments. Current studies from the FDA show excellent clinical outcomes from both cervical fusion and cervical disc replacement — both types of surgery can be expected to produce favorable results in over 90 percent of patients. Thus far, the FDA shows that cervical disc replacement has been shown to have at least equivalent results to cervical disc fusion in relieving neck pain, arm pain, patient function, and overall satisfaction, without an increase in complications.
As disc replacement continues to become more and more common, there are some real advantages to replacement when compared to fusion.
- No risks related to bone graft and healing
When the cervical disc is replaced, there isn’t any need to place bone graft material, so it doesn’t have complications associated with grafting. These are generally a failure to heal, resulting in a non-union, which may then require a second fusion surgery. There is also a lesser risk of ongoing pain from the bone graft location in the hip, if that was used to harvest the bone.
- Fewer hardware-related complications
Although the relative new timeline of the development and introduction of artificial cervical discs precludes any long-term studies, one study has shown that artificial cervical disc replacements carry a lower chance of needing a repeat surgery due to implant problems. Also, post-surgical swallowing has shown to be a problem with both fusion and disc replacement. Another study shows that these problems resolve at a higher rate with replacement when compared with cervical disc fusion.
- Reduced risk of adjacent segment disease
When two cervical vertebrae are fused, the levels of the spine above and below the fused areas are forced to absorb more load since there is no longer any intervening motion shock absorption. These loads can cause the vertebrae on each side of the fusion to wear out and become symptomatic within 10 years of the fusion surgery. Because artificial discs maintain the range of motion, this reduces the corresponding loads on the adjacent vertebrae. This should reduce degradation.