How to Prepare for Cervical Disc Replacement Surgery

Cervical disc replacement (CDR) surgery is meant to replace a damaged disc between your neck's vertebrae with an artificial disc. The goal is to improve neck mobility and reduce pain. The procedure is also known as anterior cervical disc arthroplasty (ACDR) or total disc replacement (TDR). CDR can also be used instead of spinal fusion surgery.

Who’s Eligible for Cervical Disc Replacement?

If cervical disc degeneration is causing neck and arm pain, and you are between the ages of 18 and 60, you may be eligible for cervical disc replacement.

 Your healthcare provider will perform tests to determine whether this procedure is appropriate for you.

Specific cervical disc replacement criteria include:

  • At least one cervical spine disc has degenerated, herniating and compressing nerve roots, causing arm pain.

  • There was no improvement after attempting first-line treatments such as physical therapy, pain medication, or neck bracing.

  • With no signs of infection, osteoporosis (brittle bone disease), arthritis, or osteomalacia (bone softening), your health meets the criteria for undergoing surgery.

  • There are no known allergies to the metals used in artificial discs.

According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, this procedure is not recommended for people who have previously had spinal fusion surgery or surgical procedures.

What Happens During Cervical Disc Replacement Surgery?

This procedure typically requires a few days in the hospital. During disc replacement surgery, the patient will be sedated. Depending on the location of the disc, a small incision will be made to allow the surgeon access to the front of the spine via the neck or abdomen. The disc will be removed and replaced with a synthetic disc. Other discs that have collapsed will also be repaired at this time.

Disc Replacement vs. Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF)

A disc replacement is distinct from another procedure known as an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF). The affected disc is completely removed and replaced with an artificial disc during a replacement. The ACDF procedure removes degenerated, herniated, or protruding cervical discs while also reconstructing the remaining discs by fusing them.

How to Prepare for Cervical Disc Replacement Surgery

Your surgeon will go over how to prepare for your cervical disc replacement surgery in detail, as well as any special instructions to follow. Experts advise scheduling a presurgical physical exam and discussing any current medications and supplements with your surgeon.

It is also recommended that you avoid or quit smoking before surgery because smoking interferes with your body's ability to heal and increases your risk of infection. You will also be advised to refrain from eating or drinking for some time before surgery, typically beginning at midnight the night before.

Cervical Disc Replacement Recovery

A person's recovery after surgery is influenced by a variety of factors. According to experts, the average recovery time after cervical disc replacement is six to eight weeks. For the first month, increasing activities such as walking or stretching at your own pace may be part of the recovery process.

Then, your surgeon or healthcare provider may advise you to begin a strengthening training program and notify you when you can resume other physical activities, such as sports.

Follow-Up Appointments

A follow-up appointment will also be scheduled four to six weeks after the surgery, as well as three months, six months, and a year later.

Cervical Disc Replacement Complications and Risks

Cervical disc replacement is a relatively new procedure that has been deemed safe in the United States. Every surgical procedure, however, carries some risk. This procedure may result in the complications and risks listed below.

  • Allergic reaction to artificial disc materials or infection caused by surgery

  • Incision problems

  • Paralysis

  • Problems with blood vessels or bleeding (may necessitate a blood transfusion)

  • Spinal fluid leakage

  • Spinal cord or nerve damage

  • Degeneration of nearby discs

  • Implants bend, break, or move

  • Discomfort and pain

  • Loss of range of motion at the treated cervical level

  • Numbness or tingling in arms, hands, legs, and feet

  • Anesthesia side effects

  • Dura tissue tears (a layer of tissue covering the spinal cord)

  • Death

If you are concerned about the risks and complications of disc replacement surgery, you should consult with your surgeon.

What’s the Outlook After Cervical Disc Replacement Surgery?

The outlook for cervical disc replacement surgery includes reduced or resolved pain symptoms, increased mobility, and the preservation of the health of other spinal discs.5 While discs are expected to last 40 years or more, depending on the age of the first surgery, some people may require a replacement.