Cervical Disc Replacement Procedure and Spinal Surgery Recovery

Cervical disc replacement is performed with the patient under general anesthesia. Patients are positioned face up in the operating room and a one to two inch (3-5cm) horizontal incision is made on one side of the patient’s neck. The damaged disc is then exposed and removed. Magnification with a microscope or surgical  magnifying glasses is typically used to facilitate complete removal of the disc and decompression of the nerves. After preparing the disc space, the disc replacement device is sized and carefully placed into position between the vertebrae. Live x-ray called fluoroscopy issued to ensure proper positioning of the disc replacement device. The incision is then closed. Some spine surgeons may choose to place a drain into the wound; this is typically removed at the bedside on the day following the procedure.

Patients are typically discharged home the same day or the next morning following surgery. Immobilization in a cervical collar (neck brace) for up to a week may be required depending on your surgeon’s decision. Pain from the procedure is usually limited and improves markedly within two to three days. Nerve symptoms such as pain, numbness, and weakness are often dramatically improved within hours of the surgery but in some cases can take weeks or even months to recover. X-rays are obtained following surgery to confirm proper positioning and functioning of the disc replacement device. Most patients are capable of returning to light work within a week or two of surgery and to full duty six weeks following the procedure.

Figure 1: This is a front to back x-ray (AP view) of the cervical spine showing a disc replacement device in place between the sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae. The space between the two solid portions of the device is filled with medical grade plastic.

Figure 2: This is a side view x-ray (Lateral) of the cervical spine demonstrating a disc replacement device at the C6-7 level. The top and bottom components of the device sit at the level of the disc space with a keel that anchors each piece into the vertebral body above and below the disc space.