Cervical Disc Surgery

The neck is composed of seven bones called the "cervical spine". This is an extremely flexible part of the body — yet strong enough to hold up your head, which may weigh more than 10 pounds. The cervical spine bones are separated by shock-absorbing discs.

Your spinal cord runs through large central openings (the spinal canal) inside each vertebrae. Nerves branch from the spinal cord and travel to your various parts of your body through many smaller openings in the vertebrae.

Neck pain may result from abnormalities in the soft tissues - the muscles, ligaments, and nerves — as well as in bones and joints of the spine. One of the most common cervical problems is a damaged disc. A disc may be injured by a sudden movement or impact (herniated), or the disc may wear out gradually (degenerate). A worn-out disc may become so flat that the vertebrae above and below it touch while slipping back and forth. As discs wear out, abnormal bone growths (commonly called "bone spurs") can form between the vertebrae and in the smaller nerve channels.

Arm pain from a cervical herniated disc is one of the more common cervical spine conditions treated by spine specialists. It usually develops in the 30 to 50-year-old age group. Although a herniated disk may originate from some sort of trauma or injury to the cervical spine, the symptoms commonly start spontaneously.

The arm pain from a cervical herniated disc results because the herniated disc material "pinches" or presses on a cervical nerve, causing pain to radiate along the nerve pathway down the arm. Along with the pain, numbness and tingling can be present down the arm and into the fingertips. Muscle weakness may also be present.

Cervical disc disease does not always mean that you require surgery. The first course of treatment is very conservative. Many of your symptoms can be relieved by nonsurgical management.

Your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce the pain or inflammation and allow time for healing to occur. Bed rest, reduction of physical activity or a cervical collar may also be prescribed. The collar supports the neck, reduces mobility, and may reduce the pain.

To further relieve the pressure on the nerves in your neck your doctor may prescribe a cervical traction device. This device is attached to your head and pulls up on it using a pulley system and weights. It is usually applied a few times a day and can be used while sitting or lying in bed.

However, if conservative care hasn't helped your neck pain, your surgeon may recommend cervical disc surgery. During surgery, your doctor may remove all or part of the disc (discectomy) and bone spurs pressing on your nerves or spinal cord. The expected outcome from decompressive/fusion procedures of the neck is good.

  • Significant improvement of arm pain
  • Strength improvement may take time
  • Improvement of neck pain
Spinal Fusion with Plate Graphic of a herniated disc


The Artificial Cervical Disc or Total Cervical
Disc Replacement (note the movement)

Click here to go the next page on lumbar disc decompression.

Go to the chapter on medicines and orthotics.

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Last modified: 07/27/08