Degenerative disc disease is a common cause of spine pain that develops when one or more of the cushioning discs in the spine begin to break down due to wear and tear. Cervical degenerative disc disease affects the discs in the neck and is a common source of neck pain and radiating arm pain. Treatments for degenerative disc disease vary and depend greatly on the severity of the condition and symptoms.
The spine is made up of bones, known as vertebrae, that have discs between them that are designed to absorb shock and prevent the vertebral bones from rubbing against each other when the neck or back moves. Each disc comprises a tough, flexible outer layer with a soft gel-like center, which gives it its shock-absorbing properties.
Over time, the aging process can cause discs to wear down and lose hydration, which can cause them to degenerate and become more prone to cracks and tears. As a disc degenerates, the space between the vertebrae narrows, meaning nerve roots can become pinched and discs can become stiff and rigid, restricting movement and causing pain.
Symptoms of cervical degenerative disc disease can vary widely and although pain often develops over time, it can appear suddenly, such as from an injury or trauma to the neck, which can cause the disc to bulge or tear (herniated disc). Common symptoms of cervical degenerative disc disease include:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Nerve pain that may be sharp or electric shock-like that can radiate down the shoulder, arm, hand, and/or fingers
- Tingling, numbness, and/or weakness that can radiate down the shoulder, arm, hand, and/or fingers
- Pain that increases with movement
Treatments for Degenerative Disc Disease of the Cervical Spine
Treatments can vary depending on the severity of the disease and individual preferences. There is a range of non-surgical treatments that can help to alleviate symptoms, and they are often recommended as the first line of treatment. Nonsurgical treatments include:
- Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication and injections
- Physical therapy
- Complementary medicine (chiropractic care, massage, acupuncture)
- Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking
If conservative methods are no longer effective at relieving pain or if there is significant disc damage, surgery may be recommended. Many complex spine surgeries are minimally invasive procedures that utilize highly specialized, yet extremely small surgical tools that can be inserted through incisions that are often less than a few centimeters wide. Benefits of minimally invasive surgeries may include a shorter hospital stay, faster recovery, and lower surgical risks (such as infection).
Common surgical procedures to treat degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine include:
Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion
A damaged or diseased disc can put pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, resulting in pain and loss of function. An anterior cervical discectomy is a procedure carried out to relieve pressure on nerves in the neck. The affected cervical disc is removed and the space between the vertebrae is filled with a bone graft and/or artificial implant or cage.
A cervical fusion prevents any movement between damaged vertebrae, and because it only affects a small area, any loss in the range of motion is limited.
Artificial Disc Replacement
Artificial cervical disc replacement is an alternative to spinal fusion surgery and allows for more natural motion of the spine. It is typically suitable for patients who suffer from pinched nerves that cause pain to radiate into the shoulders, arms, and hands (radiculopathy) or spinal cord compression that causes loss of function in the extremities (myelopathy). The procedure involves removing the damaged disc, restoring normal disc height, and inserting the artificial disc. Artificial discs may offer benefits, such as:
- Greater flexibility
- Relief from pain
- Increased functionality and better range of motion
- Limited transference of stress onto remaining discs (which could cause them to fail)
- Improved spinal stability
Spine Treatments in Colorado
If you have ongoing neck pain, talk to the dedicated surgeons at Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery. We pride ourselves in providing you with effective non-surgical and surgical treatments for a variety of spine and nerve-related conditions. If you would like to find out more about our services and how we can help you, call us today at (303) 790-1800 or fill out our simple online form to request an appointment.