Artificial Cervical Disc Replacement


Degenerative disc disease is a common source of neck pain. It is a condition that causes the discs in the spine to deteriorate or break down. Artificial cervical disc replacement can be an alternative to spinal fusion surgery (ACDF) for people with degenerative cervical disc disease. Unlike spinal fusion, a cervical disc replacement allows more natural motion of the spine, return to natural disc height, and near normal stress absorption in the spine.


The spine is composed of a series of bones called vertebrae. There are different areas of the spine, defined by their curvature and function. The seven small vertebrae in the neck make up the cervical spine.

The back part of each vertebra arches to form the lamina. The lamina creates a roof-like cover over the back opening in each vertebra. The opening in the center of each vertebra forms the spinal canal. The spinal cord, nerves, and arteries travel through the protective spinal canal. The spinal cord and nerves send messages between your body and brain.

Intervertebral discs are located between the vertebrae. Strong connective tissue forms the discs. Their tough outer layer is the annulus fibrosus. Their gel-like center is the nucleus pulposus. A healthy disc contains about 80% water.

The discs and two small spinal facet joints connect one vertebra to the next. The discs and joints allow movement and provide stability. The discs also act as a shock-absorbing cushion to protect the vertebrae.


Degenerative disc disease can occur in any part of the spine. Aging can cause the discs to lose fluid, collapse, or rupture. This decreases the space between the vertebrae. As the disc deteriorates, it affects the structure of the vertebrae. Such changes can lead to conditions that put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. Doctors treat most symptoms of pain non-surgically. However, surgery is recommended if the spine is unstable or when pain is not controlled by other means.


Normally, the intervertebral discs act as a cushion between the vertebrae. When a disc degenerates, pain can occur from many sources. Abnormal bone growths called bone spurs can grow in the joint and enter the spinal canal. A damaged disc can pinch nerves and cause pain, burning , tingling, pressure, weakness, and numbness. Symptoms of pain and weakness may spread to the arms.


Your doctor can diagnose a degenerative disc by performing a physical examination and viewing medical images. You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. Your muscle strength, joint motion, and stability will be assessed. Since the nerves from the spine travel to the body, your doctor will perform a neurological examination of your arms and legs to see how the nerves are functioning.

X-rays will be done to see the condition of the vertebrae. Sometimes doctors inject dye into the spinal column to enhance the X-ray images in a procedure called a myelogram. A myelogram can indicate if there is pressure on the spinal cord or nerves from herniated discs, bone spurs, or tumors.

Your doctor may order computed tomography (CT) scans to see the shape and size of your spinal canal and the structures around it. Dye may be injected before the CT scan, in a procedure called a CT Myelogram. A discogram provides a view of the internal structure of a disc, by injecting dye directly into it, and can help identify if it is a source of pain. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) provides the most detailed views of the discs, ligaments, spinal cord, nerve roots, or tumors.


Most people with degenerative disc disease are treated with non-surgical methods aimed at pain relief. Non-surgical treatments for degenerative disc disease are designed to relieve pain and restore function, but they cannot correct structural deformities. Surgery is recommended when non-surgical treatments have provided minimal or no improvement of your symptoms. Traditionally, spinal fusion surgery is used to remove the degenerative disc and fuse or secure two or more vertebrae together. Spinal fusion surgery results in movement limitations. An alternative to spinal fusion surgery is artificial cervical disc replacement.


The goal of artificial cervical disc replacement is to relieve pain and maintain motion, reduce further degeneration in the spine, and allow people to return to activities quickly. Artificial cervical disc replacement is generally used for certain levels of the spine (C3-C7). There are several types of artificial cervical discs, and your surgeon will discuss the most appropriate ones for you.

Artificial cervical disc replacement is an inpatient procedure. To begin the procedure, the surgeon makes a small incision at the front of the neck. The surgeon removes the damaged disc and related tissue from the cervical spine. A shape is formed between the vertebrae that will fit the artificial disc. The vertebral space is opened to the normal disc height to relieve pressure on nerves. Next, the surgeon places the artificial disc in the prepared space between the vertebrae.


A hospital stay of one to two days follows surgery. People return home with minimal movement limitations. Recovery from artificial disc replacement is usually faster than with fusion surgery. The artificial disc allows natural motions of the spine, including flexion, extension, rotation, and side bending.