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What Is Cervical Disk Replacement Surgery?


The cervical spine refers to the neck region of the spinal column consisting of seven bones (C1 to C7). It houses and protects the spinal cord, which is a tube-like tissue that carries nerve signals to and from the brain. The cervical spine also supports the head’s weight and allows it to move freely.

In between the stacked bones (vertebra) of the cervical spine are the cervical disks一a tough fibrocartilage that serves as a shock absorber and provides flexibility to the neck. 

Like any other body part, the cervical disc can develop damage or wear and tear for various reasons. As it gradually degenerates, the cervical disc can break down or become too thin, thus narrowing the space between the vertebra. This can cause mild to severe pain, weakness, numbness, and loss of flexibility in the neck region. 

Doctors treat degenerative disc diseases with conservative methods first. When this fails, they usually recommend patients undergo cervical disc replacement surgery.

When is cervical disk replacement necessary?

A cervical disc replacement refers to a surgical operation that involves the removal of a damaged cervical disc and replacing it with a prosthetic one. The procedure is also known as artificial disc replacement or total disc arthroplasty.

Physicians perform this type of surgery for patients diagnosed with degenerative disc disorders, like cervical disc disease. Doctors only recommend it if the patient’s condition does not respond well to non-surgical treatment, such as physical therapy and medications. 

The main purpose of a cervical disc replacement is to eliminate the pain and discomfort caused by the damaged discs. The procedure also brings other benefits, such as:

  • Enhancing the neck’s flexibility and range of motion
  • Maintaining the stability of the spinal cord.
  • Relieving nerve compression
  • Preserving the spine’s alignment
  • Eliminating pain in the neck, back, buttocks, and arms.

Furthermore, a disc replacement surgery can enhance a patient’s physical well-being and quality of life. 

What are the risks of disk replacement surgery?

Cervical disc replacement is a safe and effective treatment option for patients with degenerative disc conditions. In fact, studies suggest that artificial disc replacements have more favorable results in the long run than traditional joint fusions. 

But like any other surgical operation, it comes with potential risks and complications, such as:

  • General surgical risks include adverse reactions to anesthesia and medications, infection, and blood loss.
  • Problems in swallowing, speaking, and breathing
  • Spinal fluid leak
  • Heterotopic ossification

But there’s no need to worry since doctors make it a point to perform a physical examination and medical history review well in advance of the operation. This allows physicians to gauge whether or not the patient is a good candidate for a cervical disc operation. 

Additionally, the surgeon may also order the patient to submit to a few laboratory tests to identify any underlying condition that might become a problem later on.

Days before the procedure, the doctor will give the patient specific instructions before their operation, such as stopping smoking for a few days or eating less the night before the surgery.

How is a cervical disk replacement surgery performed?

A cervical disk replacement procedure takes at least two to three hours to perform. Patients may stay in the orthopedic center for a day or two depending on how their body is responding to recovery. Here’s a step-by-step procedure on what takes place inside the operating room:

  • The procedure starts by administering general anesthesia so the patient will be asleep and won’t feel any discomfort during the entire surgery. 
  • The orthopedic surgeon will make a small incision on the front part of the patient’s neck. They will carefully move the important structures of the throat to the side to access the cervical spine. The doctor may also insert a tube into the throat to support breathing.
  • Next, remove the diseased disc, and any bone spurs present that may have been compressing the nerves.
  • With the help of fluoroscopy or live imaging, the surgeon will implant the artificial disc into the space and attach it to the neighboring vertebra.
  • After that, the incision is sewn using absorbable stitches and a small dressing will be placed into the wound. The doctor may require the patient to wear a soft neck collar for a few days to augment recovery.

After the procedure, the patient may be taken into the recovery or observation room until the anesthesia wears off.

What to expect after cervical disk replacement surgery?

Depending on the specific surgery, some patients may already be up and walking a few hours after the surgery and may go home the same day.

It is normal for patients to experience pain and soreness in the neck region days following the cervical disc replacement surgery. They may also have difficulties speaking and swallowing during the first few days. Some important reminders to remember include:

  • Light activity only for the first month. The patient may need assistance with daily tasks for the first few days. Gradually increase activity level as the patient recovers and regain their strength.
  • Follow doctor’s orders regarding pain management and incision care to avoid complications.
  • After four to six weeks, the patient may start physical therapy sessions to gradually restore their body’s normal function.
  • Stick to the follow-up appointments scheduled by the doctor.

Generally, patients can return to their normal routine and activities six weeks after the surgery. Still, refrain from doing heavily strenuous activities, such as contact sports. 

Lastly, the patient should follow their doctor and physical therapist’s instructions and stick to their follow-up appointments to ensure a safe and fast recovery.

Medication Dispensing

Where Can I Find the Best Raleigh Orthopedic Surgeons that Perform Disk Replacement Surgeries?

Degenerative disc disease is a serious condition that must be treated immediately by an orthopedic specialist. If you’re one of the many patients considering a cervical disc replacement, then you are on the right track. 

Raleigh Orthopaedic Surgery Center is both the largest and most modern ambulatory surgery facility in Eastern North Carolina to specialize exclusively in orthopaedics. Our patients receive outstanding patient satisfaction, superior clinical outcomes, and reduced costs. 

Expect our board-certified surgeons and experienced staff to provide you with the highest quality of services at our outpatient surgical center. We are with you the entire way, and with our care, you can keep enjoying life even during injury. 

We look forward to getting in touch with you! Call Raleigh Orthopaedic Surgery Center at 919-719-3070 for more information. 

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.