Cervical discectomy is a procedure used to remove a degenerative or herniated disc in the neck. The surgeon makes an incision on the throat around the problematic disc to remove it. After the disc removal, a graft is inserted to help fuse the bones below and above the removed disc. Removal of a herniated or degenerative disc helps spinal decompression and relieves pain or discomfort associated with the condition. If you experience pain in your neck and upper back, your surgeon will assess your condition to determine whether you are a good candidate for cervical discectomy.
While cervical discectomy offers numerous benefits for your spinal health, you can suffer serious complications when the procedure is incorrect. Therefore, seeking the services of an experienced surgeon is key. At Lamis Institute, we offer safe and reliable surgical services for all our clients suffering from degenerative and herniated disc disorders in Los Angeles.
Overview of Cervical Discectomy
The neck, commonly known as the cervical spine, is a well-engineered structure of bones, muscles, and ligaments. The cervical spine is a delicate part that houses the spine and facilitates the transfer of information from the rain. The cervical spine performs the following functions:
- Spinal cord protection. The spine is a bundle of nerves extending through the cervical and thoracic. The cervical vertebrae keep the spinal cord shielded from damage.
- Head support. The cervical spine supports between ten to thirteen pounds of your head, allowing the neck to move better.
- Facilitates blood flow in the brain. The small holes in the cervical spine allow passage of arteries that transport blood to the brain.
Between each bone of your spinal column, there is a cushion called the vertebral disc. The discs prevent them from grinding against each other. Additionally, the discs act as shock absorbers when you fall or perform vigorous activity. Sometimes, the discs of the cervical vertebrae are damaged, causing intense pain. Cervical discectomy is a surgical procedure to remove the damaged disc and relieve pressure from the spinal nerves.
The cervical discectomy is done through the neck since reaching the damaged disc through the location is easier. The surgeon will move the neck muscles and tissues aside to access the spine and remove the damaged disc. The surgeon ensures that the remaining discs do not rub against each other by fusing at least two bones to replace the disc.
After the surgery, the body will begin to recover naturally. Within three to six months of the surgery, the bone graft is expected to join the vertebrae and form a solid piece. Bone grafts come from different sources, including:
- Autograft bone. An out graft bone comes from your body. Your surgeon will take bone cells from your hip. This type of bone graft has the highest likelihood of success since it has growing cells and proteins. The processing of harvesting a bone for the graft is done at the same time as the fusion surgery.
- Allograft bone. An allograft bone comes from another person. The surgeon collects bones from individuals who agree to donate their organs after death. An allograft bone lacks proteins and growing cells. Therefore, the living tissues are harvested from your spinal cord.
- Bone graft substitute. A substitute plastic or ceramic material serves as a bone. The graft material contains shavings of living bones and tissues.
After the disc removal and fusion, you could experience discomfort and difficulty moving your head. However, the problem will resolve as the area continues to heal from the surgical trauma.
Indications for Cervical Discectomy
If you experience neck and upper arm pain, your surgeon will carry out different diagnostic procedures to determine the root cause of the pain. The first line of treatment for this condition is often pain medications and physical therapy. If these non-surgical treatments fail to produce effective results, you may need to undergo disc removal. Often, cervical discectomy can be effective in treating the following conditions:
Herniated Cervical Disc
You suffer a herniated disc when the gel-like substance of the spinal disc ruptures. Often, the rupture occurs from the weak areas on the outer touchline. Your spine is made of up to twenty for your discs.
The cervical section is the section around your neck that supports the head weight. The vertebrae are separated by discs that act as shock absorbers and cushions to prevent the discs from rubbing against each other. At each disc, nerves branch out of the body.
When you suffer from a herniated disc, the gel material irritates your spinal nerves causing pain and inflation of the herniated disc. Over time, the herniated disc shrinks and causes nerve tightness around the neck. Herniation of the cervical disc has the following symptoms:
- Severe pain near your shoulder blade.
- Pain radiates through the upper arm.
- Neck pain when turning your head.
- Muscle tightness around the neck.
A herniated disc is diagnosed using MRI, CT scans, X-rays, and myelogram. Sometimes, pain from a cervical disc resolves within a few days. When you visit your doctor. They may recommend pain and anti-inflammatory medication.
Additionally, you may need to undergo physical therapy to relieve muscle tightness. When the symptoms of a herniated disc are progressive and do not resolve after treatment, the surgeon could recommend surgical removal of the hard disc.
Degenerative Disc Disease(DDD)
DDD is a disorder that affects the discs which separate the spine bones. As you age, the disc in your spine begins to dry out and shrink. Age-related changes can result in complications like spinal stenosis, arthritis, and herniated disc. Degenerative disc disorder is where the discs lose their flexibility and cushioning. This lowers the blood supply to the discs. Pain from a degenerative disc could begin in the following ways:
- Trivial injury accompanied by a sharp pain in the affected area
- A major injury followed by pain
- Pain that develops gradually
You can treat degenerative disc disorders like herniated discs with self-care, therapy, and medications. If the disc is severely damaged and your symptoms fail to resolve, you may need to undergo cervical discectomy.
Cervical Discectomy Procedure
The general procedure of cervical discectomy is done with the anterior approach meaning that the surgery is done through the front of your neck. Some of the advantages of using the Anterior cervical surgery approach to remove a damaged cervical disc include the following:
- Direct disc access. The anterior approach of discectomy surgery allows for direct visualization of the cervical disc, which is involved in spinal stenosis and nerve compression. Removal of the damaged discs results in immediate nerve decompression. The anterior approach allows the surgeon to access the entire cervical vertebrae.
- Less postoperative pain. Surgeons prefer the anterior approach since it ensures an uncomplicated removal of the damaged disc. You will experience less incision pain with this procedure.
Not all cervical discectomy surgeries are the same. There are options and variables that play a significant role in the procedure's success. Your surgeon will help you to understand these variables fully. The cervical discectomy procedure involves the following steps:
Before the procedure begins, the surgeon will administer anesthesia and sterilize the incision area. The surgeon makes an incision of one or two inches on the left of your neck. The incision is horizontal, but in multilateral cases, the incision will be more vertical.
The incision splits the thin skin under the neck muscles and creates a plane and muscle straps. After creating the right incision, the carotid sheath is entered. A thin fascia that covers the spine is dissected away from the space.
The surgeon uses an x-ray to examine the spine and confirm that the instruments are at the right spine level. Once the correct disc is identified, the surgeon removes it by cutting through the fibers around the disc. When the anterior cervical discectomy procedure is used, the cartilage is removed to expose the bone underneath.
Dissection is done from the front to the back. Often the surgeon removes the ligament to allow access to the spinal canal and facilitate the removal of the disc material that may have extruded through the ligament.
The portions of the lower vertebrae create boundaries of the disc. At this point, the surgeon must remove the bone spurs to relieve pressure from the spinal nerves. Dissection through the cervical vertebrae is performed using magnifying loupes or other visualization structures.
After a cervical discectomy, an anterior fusion must be performed to fill the space left by the damaged disc. Inserting a bone graft or a plastic implant into the evacuated disc space will help prevent the vertebrae from collapsing. Additionally, fusing the remaining discs maintains decompression and allows room for spinal nerve roots.
The surgeon will attach a plate in front of the spine for additional stability and screw it on the vertebrae bones. After the fusion is completed, a bone is formed in the spaces left by the disc and unites the vertebral canal. Before you leave the hospital after your procedure, you must have all your concerns addressed.
Potential Complications of Cervical Discectomy
Like with other surgical procedures, there are possible complications associated with cervical discectomy. The occurrence and rate of potential risks vary depending on any of the following factors:
The Expertise of the Individuals Surgeon
Spine surgery is a complicated but elective procedure. Therefore, you will have visited your doctor for the diagnosis and scheduled the surgery. A good surgeon should be able to give you different treatment options and allow you to make the right decision. Additionally, they should be able to assess your medical record and different aspects of your health to determine if you are the right candidate for the procedure.
Your Risk Factors
Your physical condition and the severity of the damaged cervical disc could dictate the outcome of your discectomy procedure. You must notify your surgeon before scheduling the procedure if you have an underlying health condition. If you take blood-thinning medications, you may need to stop taking the medication for a while. Since the procedure is done under anesthesia, you must report any allergies to avoid reacting to anesthesia.
Some of the potential complications that could result from cervical discectomy include:
Having difficulty swallowing is a common concern during recovery from cervical discectomy. Swallowing is the main way for the body to take in nutrients that help heal from your surgery. Dysphagia increases the risk of choking. You are at an increased risk of developing dysphagia if the cervical disc has extensive damage and the surgery takes a long time. Additionally, patients who receive artificial discs instead of fusion can develop the condition.
Although dysphagia can resolve within a few days, the condition may linger more weeks or months. You can manage dysphagia by stocking up on soft foods and pureeing hard foods.
Having a weak or hoarse voice is known as dysphonia. Most people recover their voices within a few days of undergoing cervical discectomy. Dysphonia can be an unexpected and frustrating experience. The symptoms of this condition range from a raspy voice and a weak voice that make it difficult to speak.
If the soreness of your throat does not go away a few days after your surgery, you can explore the following tips:
- Use alternative communication methods as much as possible.
- Consume softer or smoother foods and drinks.
The pressure applied in your throat while removing the cervical disc may affect the chances of developing speech disturbance.
Every time an incision is made to your body, you will experience slight bleeding. Often the surgeon controls the bleeding by covering up the incision area with strips. The situation worsens when you experience excessive bleeding or notice bright red blood from the incision area around your neck. Excessive loss of blood can be very fast.
Often individuals with blood disorders may be at a higher risk of developing this complication. Therefore, you must notify your doctor if you take blood thinners before the surgery.
An infection at the incision area is one of the most serious complications of cervical discectomy surgery. Often, the doctors will sterilize the surgical area before the procedure. However, even after the procedure ends, you must take proper care of the incision areas to avoid post-operative infection.
When a disc is removed from your cervical vertebrae, the area occupied by the disc is left empty. The surgeon will use the area to maintain stability and support for the neck. When the bone graft heals, the fusion may fail to result in pseudarthrosis.
Nerve Root Damage
Although the complication is rare, you could experience postoperative nerve injuries from a cervical discectomy. The nerve damage presents itself as shoulder, arm, and neck pain.
Inadequate Symptom Relief
While cervical discectomy is known to offer relief for herniated and degenerative discs of the cervical vertebrae, there are times when the procedure is ineffective. Your symptoms are expected to improve a short while after the surgery. However, if your condition is not resolved, you may need to undergo another surgery.
Care after a Cervical Discectomy Procedure
Cervical discectomy removes a herniated or damaged disc from the neck area of your spine. Removing this disc eliminates pressure from the spinal nerves. After the procedure, you can expect to feel some pain and soreness in the neck, which improves over time. The time it takes to recover from the surgery and return to normal varies depending on how you care for yourself after the surgery. Your doctor could recommend the following steps for ultimate recovery:
Your surgeon will recommend the following forms of activity after your surgery:
- Rest every time you feel tired and have enough sleep
- Try light walking each day after your surgery. You can increase the length of your walks. Walking helps in blood circulation.
- Avoid heavy lifting or other activities that could strain your spinal cord. Strenuous activities that could interfere with your healing include bike riding, jogging, weight lifting, or vigorous aerobics.
- Avoid taking long trips immediately after the accident
- Avoid sex positions that strain your back
Your diet is an important component in the healing process after your cervical discectomy surgery:
- Take plenty of fluids unless the doctor advises against it
- You can continue with your normal diet after the surgery. However, you must avoid foods that upset your stomach
- Take fiber supplements to avoid constipation
Cervical discectomy involves incisions at the back of your neck to remove the damaged disc. Therefore, the surgery could leave incision wounds. Proper care of the incision area is key to avoiding infection. You can practice proper incision care through the following:
- Leave the strips of tape covering the incision area for at least a week
- Wash the incision area with warm water and pat it dry. You must avoid the use of alcohol or sodium peroxide.
- Keep the incision area clean and dry at all times
- Avoid hot tubs or prolonged stay in warmed pools
While surgeons perform cervical discectomy under anesthesia, you could experience slight discomfort and pain when the anesthesia wears off. Therefore, your doctor could prescribe some pain medications. You must take the drugs as prescribed and avoid purchasing over-the-counter medications without consulting the doctor.
If your doctor prescribes antibiotics to prevent wound infection, you should not stop taking the drugs even when your condition improves. If you feel that the prescribed drugs are causing you stomach upsets, you should consider taking them after meals.
If you follow all the doctor’s instructions and still experience the following symptoms, it would be best to seek emergency medical care:
- Chest pain and breathing difficulties
- Lost consciousness
- Excessive bleeding from the incision area
- Inability to move your neck or arm
- Your problem fails to resolve a few weeks after the surgery
Frequently Asked Questions on Cervical Discectomy
Learning that you must undergo surgery to remove a disc from your spinal column can be very confusing. The uncertainty of the surgical outcome will fill your mind with questions. The following are some frequently asked questions on cervical discectomy:
How long must I stay in the hospital after the surgery?
Following your cervical discectomy, you will be discharged from the hospital on the same day. However, the surgeon may schedule a follow-up visit within four to six weeks of the surgery. During the follow-up visits, the surgeon will check the condition of your incision area and carry out x-rays to assess the healing.
Do I need a collar after the disc removal?
Fusion occurs immediately after disc removal. Therefore, a collar may not be necessary to provide neck support. However, depending on the number of discs to be removed and your exact condition, your doctor will determine if you will benefit from a collar.
Will I need physical therapy after cervical discectomy?
Yes. Cervical discectomy interferes with the vertebrae arrangement. Physical therapy after surgery can stay at least six months after the bone graft has healed. If you receive a plastic or ceramic disc replacement, you may begin your full activity earlier.
Will I have long-term limitations from Cervical discectomy?
When a skilled surgeon performs cervical discectomy, you can expect to recover within several weeks or months. After full recovery, you will not have any physical limitations.
Find a Skilled Surgeon Near Me
Neck and arm pain caused by pinched nerves can cause serious discomfort. When you visit your doctor with such complaints, the doctor will recommend different treatments like medication and therapy to relieve pressure from the spinal nerves. In most cases, the pain in different parts of the spine is caused by a herniated or degenerative disc.
If all other forms of treatment do not produce the expected results, the doctor could recommend cervical discectomy, which involves cutting out the damaged disc. Your spine is a complex yet critical part of your body. Therefore, you will not trust any surgeon to perform the procedure.
At LAMIS institute, we understand the significant consequences spine complications can have on your life. You will need our expertise if you need a diagnosis and surgical treatment for spinal complications in Los Angeles, CA. Contact us today at 310-734-6088.