A cervical discectomy is a spine surgery that involves removing all or part of a diseased or damaged intervertebral disc to relieve pressure on the spinal nerve(s) in the cervical spine, or neck. In patients for whom it’s appropriate, this decompressive procedure may be performed using minimally invasive surgical techniques.
What Is A Minimally Invasive Cervical Discectomy?
A cervical discectomy is a surgical procedure that involves relieving the pressure placed on nerve roots and/or the spinal cord by a herniated disc or bone spurs in the neck – a condition referred to as nerve root compression.
Cervical refers to the 7 vertebrae of the neck. Discs are the spongy, cartilaginous pads between each vertebra, and ectomy means “to take out”. In a cervical discectomy, the surgeon accesses the cervical spine through a small incision in the neck and removes all or part of the disc – and/or in some cases bone material – that’s pressing on the nerves and causing pain. Because it eliminates nerve/nerve root compression, a cervical discectomy is considered a decompressive spinal procedure.
Depending on your condition and specific surgical goals, your surgeon may choose to perform this procedure using a minimally invasive approach.
Traditional, open spine surgery involves cutting or stripping the muscles from the spine. Minimally invasive spine surgery involves a small incision or incisions and muscle dilation, allowing the surgeon to separate the muscles surrounding the spine rather than cutting them. This approach preserves the surrounding muscular and vascular function.
Why Do I Need This Procedure?
If you have a herniated disc, this means that the nucleus pulposus – the soft, gel-like center of the disc – has pushed through the annulus fibrosus, the disc’s tough, outer ring. Bone spurs, called osteophytes, can form when the joints of the spine calcify.
Pressure placed on nerve roots or the spinal cord by a herniated disc or bone spur may cause:
- Pain in the neck and/or arms
- Lack of coordination
- Numbness or weakness in the arms, forearms or fingers.
Pressure placed on the spinal cord as it passes through the cervical spine can be serious, since most of the nerves for rest of the body (e.g., arms, chest, abdomen, legs) must pass through the neck from the brain. A cervical discectomy can ease pressure on the nerves, ultimately providing pain relief.
To determine whether your condition requires treatment with a cervical discectomy, your doctor will examine your back and your medical history, and may order an X-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of your spine. A surgical procedure such as a cervical discectomy is typically recommended after non-surgical treatment options, such as medication, rest and physical therapy, fail to relieve symptoms after a reasonable length of time. Before recommending surgery, your surgeon will take a number of factors into consideration, including the condition to be treated, your age, health and lifestyle and your anticipated level of activity following surgery. Please discuss this treatment option thoroughly with your spinal care provider.
How Is A Minimally Invasive Cervical Discectomy Performed?
The operation is performed with the patient on his or her back, sedated under general anesthesia.
Through a very small incision made at or near the center of the front of your neck, your surgeon will:
- Gently and gradually dilate, or separate, the muscle and structures in the neck, and insert a series of small tubes, called dilators, to create a portal through which the spine is accessed and surgery performed.
- Remove any sources of compression; i.e., bone spurs and/or disc material.
- Remove the tubes and/or retractors, ease the soft tissues back into place and close the incision.
A cervical discectomy also may be performed in conjunction with spinal fusion. This involves placing bone graft or bone graft substitute between two or more affected vertebrae to promote bone growth between the vertebral bodies. The graft material acts as a scaffold – as the body heals, the vertebral bone and bone graft eventually grow together to join the vertebrae and stabilize the spine. Spinal fusion also may be performed through the “tube” created using minimally invasive surgical techniques.
In some instances, your surgeon may choose to perform surgery using a posterior approach, in which the spine is accessed and surgery done through an incision made in the back of your neck. A posterior cervical discectomy also may be performed using minimally invasive surgical techniques.
How Long Will It Take Me To Recover?
Your surgeon will have a specific postoperative recovery/exercise plan to help you return to your normal activity level as soon as possible. Following a minimally invasive procedure, you may notice an immediate improvement of some or all of your symptoms; other symptoms may improve more gradually.
The amount of time that you have to stay in the hospital will depend on your treatment plan. In some instances, this procedure may be done on an outpatient basis. You typically will be up and walking in the hospital by the end of the first day after the surgery. Your return to work will depend on how well your body is healing and the type of work/activity level you plan to return to.
Work closely with your spinal surgeon to determine the appropriate recovery protocol for you, and follow his or her instructions as closely as possible to optimize the healing process.
To determine whether you are a candidate for a minimally invasive cervical discectomy, please talk to your doctor.
Are There Any Potential Risks Or Complications?
All treatment and outcome results are specific to the individual patient. Results may vary. Complications such as infection, nerve damage, blood clots, blood loss and bowel and bladder problems, along with complications associated with anesthesia, are some of the potential risks of spinal surgery. A potential risk inherent to spinal fusion is failure of the vertebral bone and graft to properly fuse, a condition that may require additional surgery.
Please consult your physician for a complete list of indications, warnings, precautions, adverse effects, clinical results and other important medical information that pertains to the minimally invasive cervical discectomy procedure.
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