Artificial disc replacement may be an alternative for some patients with neck pain that has several benefits over traditional fusion, including a possible faster recovery. Also called total disc replacement, patients who have this procedure may benefit from earlier range of motion, fewer limitations on what they are allowed to do during recovery, and not needing to wear a brace. There is some research showing that patients also may have a lower risk of short-term problems with swallowing. Disc replacement in the neck is a newer procedure than fusion, so it doesn’t have as much long-term data on outcomes. Also, there are more limitations on who is eligible for the procedure.
Although it intuitively seems to make sense that problems in adjacent vertebrae would be less frequent after disc replacement than fusion, research has not shown this to be the case and spine surgeons are continuing to research this area. At Neurosurgery One, we base all of our treatment recommendations on the latest medical research and also on the best treatments for each individual patient’s condition, overall health, and lifestyle goals. If you are interested in finding out if you are a candidate for cervical disc replacement or obtaining a second opinion about a recommendation for ACDF, please schedule an appointment for a consultation with one of our expert Denver spine surgeons.
FAQs About Cervical Disc Replacement
Continue reading below to learn more about artificial disc replacement for neck pain, or click on one of these links to go directly to the information that interests you.
- What is a cervical artificial disc replacement?
- What are benefits of artificial disc replacement?
- Who is a good candidate for artificial disc replacement surgery?
- Who should not have artificial disc replacement surgery?
- What are the risks of artificial disc surgery?
- How long is recovery and rehabilitation from artificial disc replacement surgery?
Conditions We Treat
What is a cervical artificial disc replacement?
Artificial disc replacement in the cervical spine is an innovative procedure that employs advanced technology. A 2016 study found that artificial disc replacement resulted in better function outcomes, less need for additional surgery, and fewer complications than ACDF.
In artificial disc replacement, a small incision, usually about one inch, is made, most often in the neck fold. Then the surgeon removes the degenerated or diseased disc. Once the disc is removed, a new disc, specifically sized to fit the patient, is inserted. Many artificial discs consist of two metal end plates, separated by a polyethylene — or plastic — spacer.
With disc replacement surgery, additional stabilization measures are not necessary, and most patients are discharged from the hospital within 24 hours.
What are benefits of artificial disc replacement?
Other potential benefits of artificial disc replacement over traditional fusion surgery include:
- Maintains full range of neck motion
- Reduces the likelihood of degeneration in adjacent segments of the cervical spine
- Eliminates the potential complications associated with bone graft used in ACDF surgery
- Shorter recovery time; most patients are able to resume normal activities within a few weeks
- Most patients can resume full activity, including vigorous activities, such as jogging, in as soon as three months
Watch an animation that shows the range of neck motion after artificial disc replacement.
Who is a good candidate for artificial disc replacement surgery?
Good candidates for artificial disc replacement are patients who:
- Experience arm pain
- Experience numbness and tingling in the arms and hands
- Have good motion in the area where the neck bends
- Have degenerative disc disease in only one disc
- Have no allergies to stainless steel
- Have no significant neck pain
Who should not have artificial disc replacement surgery?
The procedure is not appropriate for all patients. Artificial disc replacement in the cervical spine is not recommended for patients who:
- Have arthritis in the facet joint
- Have osteoarthritis in the cervical spine
- Have instability in the cervical spine
- Have active infection
- Have had previous fusion surgery in the area of the degenerated disc
- Need more than one level addressed
What are the risks of artificial disc surgery?
The risks of artificial disc surgery are comparable to those of most surgical procedures, and include surgical site infection. As with fusion surgery such as ACDF, there is a slight chance that the implanted device will move out of place. But this is extremely rare. Since artificial disc replacement is a newer procedure than fusion, it isn’t yet clear how long the implanted discs will last.
How long is recovery and rehabilitation from artificial disc replacement surgery?
Recovery and rehabilitation from artificial disc replacement surgery are different for everyone. In general, here’s what you might expect:
- Some patients experience minor pain at the incision site, and some at the base of the neck and the shoulder blades. Typically, over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers can help.
- Your bandages likely will come off the second day after surgery, but you may need to visit your neurosurgeon after you go home to have sutures removed.
- Some patients will wear a soft or rigid neck support after surgery.
- You may experience hoarseness or a sore throat. This is normal, and the symptoms will resolve within a few weeks.
- You will be able to eat your normal diet.
- Your neurosurgeon will advise you regarding when you can resume taking a regular shower or bath. You should not enter a pool or hot tub for several weeks.
- You should be able to sleep in any position after you return home.
- Many patients are able to resume driving after a week or two, but you and your neurosurgeon will discuss when it’s appropriate for you to drive. You will not be able to drive as long as you are taking prescription pain medications.
- You may start physical therapy after a few weeks.
- You should be able to return to full activities by four to six weeks.