A surgical option for a herniated disc
Our spine is made of small bones called vertebrae. Between each bone is a disc, which absorbs pressure and prevents vertebrae from rubbing against one another. But when a cervical disc degenerates, the disc or vertebrae can place pressure on the spinal cord or nerves, causing shooting arm pain, weakness or numbness.
Treatment depends on the severity of the patient’s condition but can either be surgical or nonsurgical. Nonsurgical options include physical therapy, medication or injections. Surgical intervention, known as cervical artificial disc replacement, or total disc arthroplasty, is an outpatient procedure with only a six-week recovery time.
“During a cervical artificial disc replacement, we remove a herniated disc and take the pressure off the spinal cord and nerves,” says Dr. Lynn Bartl, a neurosurgeon at Aurora Medical Center – Summit.
Dr. Bartl explains that once the disc is removed, a replacement device is inserted into the disc space, allowing for continued normal range of motion in the neck.
“There are many benefits to artificial disc replacement, especially relief of arm pain and weakness,” she says. “And because a patient’s range of motion in their neck is preserved, they’re at a lower risk of needing surgery at other levels compared to a spinal fusion. If a patient does require a spinal fusion, we’re able to perform a cervical artificial disc replacement at the same time at another level in the neck, depending on the findings on imaging.”
After the procedure, patients do not have to wear a collar or brace. For the first two weeks postoperatively, they shouldn’t lift more than 10 pounds or drive but are encouraged to walk. Six weeks after surgery, if a patient is experiencing any lingering symptoms, they may be referred to physical therapy, which provides guidance for strengthening and conditioning.
“I enjoy performing artificial disc replacements because it relieves my patients’ pain,” Dr. Bartl says. “In just six weeks, they see a dramatic improvement in their functioning.”
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About the Author
Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.