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Cervical Disc Surgery: Disc Replacement or Fusion?

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Not everyone is a candidate for the artificial disc, however. Those with osteoporosis, joint disease, infection, inflammation at the site, or an allergy to stainless steel may not be candidates for disc replacement surgery.

With cervical fusion surgery, the surgeon removes the damaged disc and places a bone graft (which is taken either from the patient's hip or from a cadaver) in the space between the vertebrae. The bone graft will eventually fuse to the vertebrae above and below it. A metal plate may be screwed into the vertebrae above and below the graft to hold the bone in place while it heals and fuses with the vertebrae. Discectomy with cervical fusion can often help relieve the pain of spinal disc disease. The only caveat is that after the surgery, many people find that they lose some degree of movement in their neck.

Risks of Cervical Disc Surgeries

Although cervical disc surgery is generally safe, it does have a few risks, including:

  • Infection
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Reaction to anesthesia
  • Chronic neck pain
  • Damage to the nerves, spinal cord, esophagus, or vocal cords
  • Failure to heal

After cervical fusion surgery, some people develop cervical disc problems above and/or below the previously affected disc. One study found that up to a quarter of patients developed new cervical disc disease within 10 years of their surgery, and some of those may require an additional fusion at a different level. Researchers don't think the artificial disc will cause the same problem, but they need to investigate further to know for sure.

Recovering From Cervical Disc Surgery

You should be able to get up and move around within a few hours of your cervical disc surgery, and you'll either go home from the hospital the same day or the following morning. You'll feel some pain in the area operated on, but it should ease over time.

The fusion can take anywhere from three months to a year to become solid after surgery, and you could still have some symptoms during that time. Your doctor might recommend that you wear a cervical collar to support your neck for the first four to six weeks. You may help speed the process by eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and practicing good posture. Check with your surgeon to see what activity level is right for you before starting any exercise after surgery.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 04, 2014
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