What is Cervical Disc Disease?

What is the cervical spine?

The cervical spine is made up of seven (7) vertebrae, separated by discs that cushion and stabilize the neck and allow it to move smoothly. All discs degenerate over time, which may cause symptoms such as radiating pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in your shoulders, arms and hands. These symptoms may have a major impact on your quality of life. If you experience these symptoms you should see your doctor.

What is cervical disc disease?

Cervical disc disease is neck or arm pain and/or a functional or neurological deficit with imaging confirmation of herniated disc, loss of disc height or bony growth. This may create pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots and may occur over time or it can occur after an injury or trauma to the neck ( fig. 1 ).

How do you diagnose cervical disc disease?

Cervical disc disease is diagnosed through medical history, neurological exams and imaging tests (X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) scans) to visualize the spinal cord and determine the source of neck pain.

MRI is considered by leading spine specialists to be the ideal screening method for evaluation of cervical symptoms, and is preferred to CT because of its ablity to image soft tissue without exposing the patient to radiation. (Sundseth, J. Eur Spine J. 2013)

Do I need surgery?

If physical therapy, medications, or injections fail to provide relief, you may be referred to a spine surgeon for conventional anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF), or cervical artificial disc surgery.

ACDF involves removing the damaged disc, and using plates, screws and bone graft to fill in the space, creating a column of bone. While ACDF surgery is effective at eliminating pain, it also eliminates natural motion between vertebrae. Cervical artificial discs, by contrast, are designed to retain natural motion.

fig. 1.