Neurosurgeons at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., are now able to offer patients with neck disc degeneration requiring surgery a new artificial disc that mimics the feel and movement of a real — and healthy — disc.
Use of the artificial disc, which is made of stainless steel, represents a significant advance over the traditional way of treating degenerative cervical (neck) spinal discs, says neurosurgeon Kent New, M.D., Ph.D.
“Cervical degenerative disc disease is a common cause of severe pain in the neck and arms, so it is encouraging that we have a better option now to offer patients,” he says.
Previously, Dr. New says, the only option was to fuse a bad disc to adjacent bone. While that procedure can reduce pain, it also limits a patient’s range of motion. “This new device helps lessen pain and restore motion.” New estimates that the artificial disc could be used in 30 percent to 40 percent of single-level cervical spine surgeries that would previously have required fusion. Compared to the more invasive fusion procedure, implanting the artificial disc usually takes about 90 minutes, and patients are required to spend one night in the hospital. Although the disc has been used for several years in Europe, it is the first artificial disc approved for cervical spine surgery in this country. The Food and Drug Administration only approved it in July following a clinical trial with over 500 patients. The artificial disc is made up of two pieces of metal that attach to upper and lower vertebrae with bone screws, and relies on a special mechanism that helps maintain a normal range of motion.
“Patients who received the artificial cervical disc maintained normal range of motion, returned to work earlier and had less pain after surgery than patients who underwent fusion in the clinical trial,” New says. “Longer follow-up of patients will be required to determine whether use of the artificial disc reduces the need for further surgery at other levels in the cervical spine.”
Degenerative disc disease is a normal part of aging that occurs when our intervertebral discs lose their flexibility and the gel in between them thins, causing neck pain and other symptoms like numbness and tingling in the shoulders and arms. Cervical disc degeneration can also contribute to spinal stenosis and other progressive conditions, as well as more sudden disc herniation.