Cervical Disc Surgery: Disc Replacement or Fusion?

Article featured on WebMD, medically reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD

The vast majority of people — more than 90% — with pain from cervical disc disease will get better on their own over time with simple, conservative treatments. Surgery, however, may help if other treatments fail or if symptoms worsen to the point that weakness in your arms and or legs develop. This is called a cervical myelopathy and surgery is recommended.

Cervical disc disease is caused by an abnormality in one or more discs — the cushions — that lie between the neck bones (vertebrae). When a disc is damaged — due to degenerative disc disease (or DDD) or an unknown cause — it can lead to neck pain from inflammation or muscle spasm. In severe cases, pain and numbness can occur in the arms from pressure on the cervical nerve roots or spinal cord.

Surgery for cervical disc disease typically involves removing the disc that is pinching the nerve or pressing on the spinal cord. This surgery is called a discectomy. Depending on where the disc is located, the surgeon can remove it through a small incision either in the front (anterior discectomy) or back (posterior discectomy) of the neck while you are under anesthesia. A similar technique, microdiscectomy, removes the disc through a smaller incision using a microscope or other magnifying device.

Often, a procedure is performed to close the space that’s left when the disc is removed and restore the spine to its original length. Patients have two options:

  • Artificial cervical disc replacement
  • Cervical fusion

In 2007, the FDA approved the first artificial disc, the Prestige Cervical disc, which looks and moves much like the real thing but is made of metal. Since then, several artificial cervical discs have been developed and approved. Ongoing research has shown that the artificial disc can improve neck and arm pain as safely and effectively as cervical fusion while allowing for range of motion that is as good or better than with cervical fusion. People who get the artificial disc are often able to return to work more quickly as well. The surgery to replace the disc, however, does take longer and can lead to more blood loss than with cervical fusion. It’s also not known how the artificial discs will last over time. People who get an artificial disc can always opt for cervical fusion later. But if a patient has cervical fusion first, it’s not possible to later put an artificial disc in the same spot.


The Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Center of Oregon is an award-winning, board-certified orthopedic group located in downtown Portland Oregon. We utilize both surgical and nonsurgical means to treat musculoskeletal trauma, spine diseases, sports injuries, degenerative diseases, infections, tumors and congenital disorders.

Our mission is to return our patients back to pain-free mobility and full strength as quickly and painlessly as possible using both surgical and non-surgical orthopedic procedures.

Our expert physicians provide leading-edge, comprehensive care in the diagnosis and treatment of orthopedic conditions, including total joint replacement and sports medicine. We apply the latest state-of-the-art techniques in order to return our patients to their active lifestyle.

If you’re looking for compassionate, expert orthopedic surgeons in Portland Oregon, contact OSM today.

Phone:
503-224-8399

Address
1515 NW 18th Ave, 3rd Floor
Portland, OR 97209

Hours
Monday–Friday
8:00am – 4:30pm

Understanding Spinal Disk Problems — the Basics

Article Featured on WebMD

What Are Spinal Disk Problems?

Anybody who has experienced a damaged spinal disk understands how painful it is. Every movement seems to make it worse. This pain is a warning signal that you should heed. If you take appropriate action, the discomfort usually stops, and the problem can be corrected.

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Lumbar Spine Surgery

Article Featured on Spine Health

Lumbar surgery refers to any type of surgery in the lumbar spine, or lower back, between one or more of the L1-S1 levels. There are two general types of lumbar spine surgery that comprise the most common surgical procedures for the lower back:

Lumbar Decompression

The goal of a decompression surgery is usually to relieve pain caused by nerve root pinching. There are two common causes of lumbar nerve root pressure: from a lumbar herniated disc or lumbar spinal stenosis.

This type of pain is usually referred to as a radiculopathy, or sciatica.

A decompression surgery involves removing a small portion of the bone over the nerve root and/or disc material from under the nerve root to relieve pinching of the nerve and provide more room for the nerve to heal. The most common types of decompression surgery are microdiscectomy and laminectomy.

There are also a few alternatives available to the above two standard procedures, such as an X-STOP which is a possible option instead of a laminectomy for lumbar spinal stenosis.

Lumbar Fusion

The goal of a lumbar fusion is to stop the pain at a painful motion segment in the lower back. Most commonly, this type of surgery is performed for pain and disability caused by lumbar degenerative disc disease or a spondylolisthesis.

A spinal fusion surgery involves using a bone graft to stop the motion at a painful vertebral segment, which in turn should decrease pain generated from the joint. Spine surgery instrumentation (medical devices), bone graft procedures, and a bone stimulator are sometimes used along with spinal fusion.

There are also many surgical approaches to performing spinal fusion, such as ALIF, PLIF, XLIF, TLIF, posterolateral gutter fusion, anterior/posterior fusion, and certain minimally invasive approaches.

In addition to the above conditions, decompression and/or spinal fusion may be performed to address other types of lumbar spine pathologies, such as infection or tumors.

Lumbar Spine Surgery Alternatives

In addition to the traditional one-level fusion or decompression surgery that is done for lumbar degenerative disc disease or spinal stenosis, respectively, there are a number of surgical alternatives available. Several of the most common ones include:

Artificial Disc Replacement

Artificial disc technology can be used in specific cases of lumbar degenerative disc disease.

Motion Preservation Technologies

It should be known that while spinal fusion has been a classical treatment for ongoing pain and disability from the lumbar spine, alternatives to fusion do exist for posterior conditions (problems in the back of the lumbar spine) such as spinal stenosis. Inserting an interspinous process spacer, such as the X-STOP device, can actually preserve motion as opposed to stopping it via fusion.

Vertebral Augmentation

A surgery called vertebral augmentation may be done to treat pathological fractures from tumors or osteoporosis.

Multilevel Lumbar Fusion

Lumbar spine fusion surgery for symptomatic degenerative disc disease is typically done on one level of the spine (most commonly toward the bottom of the spine, at L5-S1 or L4-L5). In certain cases it may be done on two levels, and only very rarely would it be considered on 3 or more levels. Multilevel spine fusion may be indicated in cases of scoliosis.

There are only two things that surgery can do. Surgery can decompress a nerve root or it can stabilize a painful motion segment. So we have to identify a nerve root that’s pinched or we have to identify a painful motion segment. And if we can do that, that would make you a candidate for surgery. Just having pain and having failed conservative treatment is not an indication for surgery if there is no pathological cause of the pain – it doesn’t mean there’s not pain, but we have to identify the cause of pain in order to be able to correct it. The only thing surgery can do is actually correct an anatomical defect, so we have to be able to identify it.


Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Center of Oregon is an award-winning, board-certified orthopedic group located in downtown Portland Oregon. We utilize both surgical and nonsurgical means to treat musculoskeletal trauma, spine diseases, sports injuries, degenerative diseases, infections, tumors and congenital disorders.

Our mission is to return our patients back to pain-free mobility and full strength as quickly and painlessly as possible using both surgical and non-surgical orthopedic procedures.

Our expert physicians provide leading-edge, comprehensive care in the diagnosis and treatment of orthopedic conditions, including total joint replacement and sports medicine. We apply the latest state-of-the-art techniques in order to return our patients to their active lifestyle.

If you’re looking for compassionate, expert orthopedic surgeons in Portland Oregon, contact OSM today.

Phone:
503-224-8399

Address
1515 NW 18th Ave, 3rd Floor
Portland, OR 97209

Hours
Monday–Friday
8:00am – 4:30pm

What Is Degenerative Disc Disease?

By Brian McHugh, MD | Featured on Spine Health

Degenerative disc disease is one of the most common causes of low back and neck pain, and also one of the most misunderstood.

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How to tell if you have a Herniated Disk

Article Featured on AAOS

A common source of back or neck pain is a herniated disk. Sometimes called a “slipped” or “ruptured” disk, this condition most often occurs in the lower back, as well as the smaller disks in the neck.

Although a herniated disk can sometimes be very painful, most people feel much better with just a few months of simple, nonsurgical treatments.

Read more