With data supporting an advantage over traditional spinal fusion surgery, this relatively new treatment may be a great option for some
Joint replacements are fairly common surgical procedures and can be performed on the hip, knee, elbow, ankle, shoulder, and even finger joints. The two main goals of a joint replacement (or arthroplasty, medically speaking) are to relieve pain and restore the range of motion in joints with degenerative conditions. The success rate for joint replacement surgery is generally very high.
Degenerative conditions also occur in the spine, and for decades, among the treatments for serious conditions has been spinal fusion surgery. For the neck, this type of surgery is very effective at relieving pain for conditions such as cervical radiculopathy, but it can result in a limited range of motion because the vertebrae, which are linked together by joints, end up permanently fused together.
Imagine fusing together other joints in your body, such as your knee. It might alleviate pain, but the 0% range of motion would be severely limiting.
The good news is that spine surgeons can now perform the equivalent of a joint replacement for the spine. Using a prosthesis, this relatively new treatment is called disc replacement surgery (medically speaking, Cervical Disc Arthroplasty). It is proving to be as clinically effective at relieving arm and/or hand pain and numbness as traditional fusion surgery, but without the resulting limited range of motion in the neck. And it may have some other benefits over fusion surgery which your spine doctor can discuss with you (along with the potential risks and complications).
“Cervical disc arthroplasty has been a great option for many of my patients where non-surgical treatment has failed to relieve symptoms. I enjoy offering it to my patients as an option as the data supports an advantage over fusion,” says Dr. Louis Magdon, a spine surgeon at Blue Ridge Orthopaedic & Spine Center.
Over the course of time, Dr. Magdon foresees cervical disc arthroplasty to continue to gain popularity in practice for certain patients with degenerative disease.
It is important to note, not all spine patients are candidates for disc replacement. In fact, most patients aren’t candidates for any type of surgery. For most neck and back problems, your spine surgeon will likely advise non-surgical treatment which may include exercise, pain management, or physical therapy.