By Robert McLain, MD
For many patients, neck stiffness and pain often starts as a general ache and soreness after work or when watching TV. While not worrisome in the beginning it can lead to trouble sleeping. A little Advil, a neck-rub, that’s all you might often need. But if it doesn’t go away, you may have something more serious.
The pain may become more intense and bothersome, but it is the loss of function and strength that can be suddenly frightening. Severe, burning arm and neck pain, with or without weakness, is what drives most patients to get their first medical evaluation. This is when many patients come to the Spine and Orthopedic Institute at St. Vincent Charity in Solon to learn about an advance treatment for neck and arm pain—total disc arthroplasty.
When the arm burns and aches, particularly when there’s numbness and weakness, it’s usually a disc herniation or bone-spur putting pressure on a nerve in the neck. Disc arthroplasty, or disc replacement surgery, removes the damaged disc, decompressing the nerves that trigger arm pain, without having to fuse the spine.
Patients are evaluated by a medical or chiropractic provider to insure there is no spinal cord compression, obtain imaging studies, and start stretching, light physical therapy, and mild medications. For many patients, this approach is all that’s needed to get back on track. If symptoms persist, however, surgery by a surgeon with extensive experience in disc replacement surgery will see you without delay.
Disc replacement surgery is possible even when two discs are involved. Because the bulging disc or bone spurs are removed just as they would be with a traditional fusion, disc replacement relieves arm pain, and by removing the painful disc and restoring normal mechanics the artificial disc reduces or eliminates neck pain. Most patients go home the day after surgery, and some the same day. While fusion surgery is a reliable and successful solution to neck problems in many patients, studies show that disc replacement offers better clinical outcomes, with lower re-operation rates, and lower complication rates.
After surgery patients often find that their neck pain was improved and arm pain is gone almost immediately. After returning to light activity, then physical therapy, many get back to work and recreation within six weeks.
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Dr. Robert McLain, orthopedic surgeon at the Spine and Orthopedic Institute at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, specializes in total disc replacement. For a consultation, call 440-248-1297.