Most people don’t realize how important neck motion is throughout the day. If you notice a bug flying in the corner of the room, your first instinct is to turn your head to see it. If you are enjoying a bowl of pasta and spill sauce on your shirt, you look down to wipe it away. It’s not until these actions become painful or limited that people understand how essential neck motion is for navigating the world.

Painful and reduced range of motion is a common side effect of people who experience cervical disc degeneration, or the breakdown of the cushions that protect the vertebrae in your neck. This is why more doctors are performing cervical disc replacement (CDR), a modern treatment that gives patients their range of motion back. Learn more about CDR and who can benefit from this treatment option.


Limitations of Traditional Treatments for Maintaining Neck Motion

Before the development of CDR, doctors would traditionally recommend spinal fusion surgery to treat neck pain. In this operation, the surgeon removes the worn-out or damaged spinal disc that is causing the patient discomfort. The disc might be pushing in the nerve canal (causing pain to radiate down their arms and legs) and simply could be worn down to the point where the vertebrae are knocking against each other. Once the disc is removed, the doctor fuses the two vertebrae to maintain spinal stability.

Unfortunately, spinal fusion is known for reducing the range of motion of patients. If you ever look at the skeleton of a snake, you can see how the countless vertebrae allow the animal to bend and twist in various directions. Without these vertebrae, the snake would only be able to form a straight line. The same goes for spinal fusion. The more vertebrae that are fused, the less a patient can bend and twist comfortably.

Spinal fusion also comes with additional challenges for patients who undergo these operations. The spine was never meant to be fused, so this procedure places new stress on the muscles and joints in the surrounding area. This increases the risk of adjacent segment degeneration, which could lead to additional surgeries and treatment needs. Finally, some patients live with chronic pain after their spinal fusion – especially if the bones don’t fuse properly.


Comparing CDR to Other Cervical Disc Treatments for Maintaining Neck Motion

If you live with neck pain and your doctor confirms that a cervical disc is breaking down or out of place, they might walk you through a series of treatment options and procedures that can restore your comfort levels. Here are a few considerations that your doctor will evaluate and how they tack up to CDR.

CDR vs. anterior cervical discectomy and fusion

As mentioned above, fusion is the main alternative to CDR. While this operation has its limitations and risks, it is sometimes recommended to patients who are not candidates for CDR. Every patient is unique and your doctor will do their best to find the treatment option with the highest chances of success.

CDR vs. posterior cervical laminectomy

Just because you experience neck pain doesn’t necessarily mean the issue lies with your cervical discs. In some cases, your doctor might recommend a laminectomy which is the removal of the lamina to relieve pressure on your spine. The lamina is a small part of the bone on a vertebrae. This treatment is often used to address pain from cervical stenosis.

CDR vs. conservative treatments

Surgery isn’t always the answer. Some patients can treat their neck pain with conservative treatments like physical therapy, hot and cold therapy, pain medication, and even steroid injections. Your doctor might recommend these options first before considering surgery to see how your body responds.

Even if you are a candidate for surgery, they might suggest these treatments to mitigate your discomfort before the operation.


CERVICAL DISC REPLACEMENT for Maintaining Neck Motion

While CDR is a safe operation with a high chance of success, doctors don’t recommend this procedure lightly. There are multiple steps for determining whether a patient is a good candidate for CDR – and even more considerations to take before they are cleared for the operation.

First, the doctor will confirm via an MRI or CT scan that there is disc degeneration. Even if the spinal disc is one source of pain, the doctor will look at the complete spinal structure to make sure there aren’t other issues causing discomfort to the patient. By taking this careful approach, the surgeon reduces the risk that they treat the wrong issue – which wouldn’t alleviate the patient’s pain.

Next, the doctor will recommend a series of conservative treatments for patients to try before surgery. If a patient can improve their neck mobility through physical therapy and stretching, they might not need CDR. If the patient follows these therapy guidelines but the symptoms persist, the doctor might decide to move forward with surgery.

Finally, the doctor will make sure the patient is likely to recover from the surgery successfully. They will look at lifestyle factors like the patient’s age, weight, diet, lifestyle habits (like smoking), and other illnesses they might have. Any potential risks could complicate the recovery process and make the CDR less effective.

After the doctor completes this process, they can approve the patient for CDR. During this time, the patient will continue with their conservative treatments and start preparing for the recovery process.


CDR Recovery and Rehabilitation for Maintaining Neck Motion

The surgeon will do their best to complete a successful CDR operation on the patient. This is typically an outpatient procedure that can be done at a spinal center (not the hospital). A patient can check into the center in the morning and recover at home by the late afternoon. CDR only takes a few hours and the patient will have a one-inch incision at the front of the neck.

It’s up to the patient to take their post-operative care seriously. The entire recovery process can take between six to 12 weeks, depending on the individual and the operation. Nerve compression in the area could take 6-12 months to heal.

Your doctor will give you specific instructions about what you can do and what you should expect in the days and weeks following surgery. In the first few days after CDR, swallowing and talking might be painful. You will need to take time off work and shouldn’t lift anything. In the following weeks, you will be approved for more activities, including lifting light objects, exercising, and returning to work.

Depending on the operation, your doctor might want to meet with you in person to approve your return to work and other normal activities. They want to ask about your symptoms and check your neck to make sure it is healing properly.


Outcomes and Success Rates of CDR for Maintaining Neck Motion

Despite the risks, many doctors believe CDR is one of the best options for long-term pain reduction and neck mobility preservation. In the short run, CDR considerably decreases the rate of adjacent segment degeneration. With spinal fusion, the potential for this degeneration is between 23-44%. For CDR, this drops to 10-27%.

In the long run, patients who undergo CDR are less likely to need secondary surgeries to address neck pain and range of motion issues. In one study of patients seven years after their neck surgery, patients who opted for CDR had two thirds lower reoperation rate compared to those who had a spinal fusion.

This data highlights how patients can resume normal life after their CDR and enjoy restored levels of neck motion without fear of additional surgeries and complications.

Within the past few years, there is also a lot of excitement around the use of CDR for athletes. Historically, if a player needed spinal fusion, they might be out for the season and could require more than a year to recover. However, with CDR, patients can return in just a few months.

In 2021, two NHL players were the first professional athletes in the United States to receive disc replacement surgery. One player was skating within three weeks of the operation and was taking full-contact hits in practice within 10 weeks. He returned to the rink within three months.


Know Your Options to Restore Neck Motion

CDR is a promising treatment option for maintaining neck motion. Not only is it a less invasive operation, but the long-term benefits to neck motion and reduced chances of complications often make CDR the best choice for patients. Despite its benefits, doctors still take the operation seriously and work closely with patients before clearing them for surgery.

To learn more about CDR research and advancements, contact Dr. Todd H. Lanman, founder of the Advanced Disc Replacement Spinal Restoration Center. Dr. Lanman is an award-winning spinal neurosurgeon who has presented a myriad of papers on spinal health. Request a consultation if you live with neck pain and are concerned about your long-term range of motion. Dr. Lanman will learn about your spinal health and can put you on a path to recovery.


Ready to reclaim your life? Get in touch today.