Cervical disc surgery

What is it?

Cervical disc surgery may be performed in two ways:

  • Fusion (anterior cervical discectomy and fusion)
  • Cervical disc replacement 

Cervical disc surgery is undertaken to remove a disc that is pressing on a cervical nerve and/or the spinal cord. 

Symptoms of a cervical disc prolapse include neck and arm pain as well as weakness or numbness in the arm/hand (trapped nerve in the neck).

Symptoms of spinal cord compression include tingling in the hands and feet, clumsiness of the hands and unsteady walking.

You may be recommended to consider surgery if your symptoms of a trapped nerve have not settled with time and pain relief or if you have spinal cord compression.

Diagnosis and treatment options

If you are demonstrating symptoms of a trapped nerve in your neck, then it is likely that you will be recommended to undergo an MRI scan of your cervical spine. 

If your MRI demonstrates a cervical disc prolapse (slipped disc) with nerve compression then you have three main options:

  • Carry on with pain relief and physiotherapy and wait to see if the symptoms settle down naturally
  • Consider a cervical epidural injection of steroid (a local anaesthetic day case procedure)
  • Consider cervical disc surgery: fusion or disc replacement (an operation under general anaesthesia)

Which treatment is right for you will depend on the severity and duration of your symptoms, how quickly you want to return to full physical activity and also your understanding of the risks of any procedure.

You will have plenty of opportunity to ask questions about the technique of surgery, any potential complications as well as your expected rate of recovery following surgery.

Outcome and complications

After cervical disc surgery patient satisfaction rates are 85-90% and we expect 90% of patients to experience good or excellent relief from arm pain. (Spine Tango data)

As with all surgery there is always some risk of complication. These will be discussed prior to going ahead with any procedure. For this type of surgery, risks include:

  • Wound infection - 1%
  • Bleeding - 1%
  • Spinal fluid leak - 1%
  • Persistent swallowing discomfort or a hoarse voice - less than 5%
  • Arm pain or neck pain worsens - less than 5%
  • Nerve or spinal cord injury causing numbness, weakness or paralysis in the limbs or problems with bladder, bowel or sexual function - less than 1 in 1000
  • Complications associated with general anaesthesia (heart problems, chest complications, blood clots, infection) - these risks may increase with certain medical conditions

Data from Spine Tango.

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