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Arm Pain & Numbness? Cervical Disc Replacement May be Right for You!

September 12, 2016 in Article, Ask the Expert, Neck Pain, Operative Care,
Posted by Colin M. Haines
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cervical disc replacement can be an excellent option for many candidates, but what exactly does that mean? Often times my patients will schedule an initial consultation when they are experiencing arm pain and numbness, but their neck doesn’t necessarily hurt. This could be a sign of symptomatic nerve or spinal cord compression, and may require a disc removal if symptoms persist after non-operative treatment.

WHAT IS DISC REMOVAL?

Discs hold the vertebrae of the spine together and act as shock absorbers during movement. When the function of a disc is compromised {i.e. disc herniation, collapsed disc, etc.} it can result in a number of symptoms including the pain, numbness, and tingling mentioned above. In some instances it is necessary to completely remove the disc, which is performed through the front of the neck, and an implant is placed into the space once occupied by the disc. If an implant is not placed there, the spine would have too much movement and the disc space would collapse leading to a host of other issues.

HOW DO YOU FILL THE DISC SPACE?

The gold standard has always been to achieve a fusion through the empty disc space. This is called an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. The complicated procedure can be simplified like this: fusion is achieved when bone forms together, through that empty disc space, and connects the two adjacent vertebrae. These two vertebrae then act as a single unit and hold the bones in a position that does not compress the nerves or cause any painful neck motion.

WHY CERVICAL DISC REPLACEMENT?

Spinal fusions have been around for decades, but recently concerns have been raised that by changing the neck’s normal motion, the intervertebral disc next to the fused levels would be at risk for degrading over time. Cervical disc technology developed to maintain neck motion that is similar to pre-surgical levels after the disc removal. A good rule of thumb to remember is that fusion limits motion because structures are ‘fused’ together and disc replacements offer more mobility. This is an excellent option for some patients, but only under select circumstances.  

AM I A CANDIDATE FOR CERVICAL DISC REPLACEMENT?

From a symptom perspective, you may have arm pain and numbness as well as neck pain. However, the specific type of neck pain is important. If it is determined that you have arthritic pain from joints in the back of the neck, called facet joints, then a disc replacement may not be for you. Unlike a fusion, which eliminates painful motion from the facets, disc replacement maintains motion.Therefore, neck pain may persist if a disc replacement is chosen.

Your imaging studies are also crucial. They are used to look for arthritis in the facet joints as well as look as your overall neck alignment. If your affected discs are collapsed and in a compromised position, then a fusion may be a better option.

There are several factors involved when it comes to recommending treatment options for patients. The most important thing is to look at the body and to understand the goals of the patient. A cervical disc replacement may be an excellent option to help reduce nerve compression and get you back to a pain-free life.

If you are interested in learning more about the cervical disc replacement treatment option for your  neck pain, schedule an initial consultation today!

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