Artificial Disc or Cervical Fusion?

One of the unfortunate outcomes of serious orthopedic trauma faced by the clients of the Alaska Personal Injury Law Group is surgery for injured spinal discs. Whether it is soon after an accident like an automobile crash, or years later due to progression of their condition, clients often struggle with the decision about whether to have spinal surgery.

A harsh reality is that the “gold standard” in cervical disc surgery is removal of the herniated disc and fusion of the joint with bone and metal plates. The unfortunate results of this type of surgery often include recurrence of the original neck, back and arm pain, a limitation of neck movement, and increased stress on adjacent spinal levels that leads to arthritic changes in that joint, and sometimes yet another fusion. When a person’s own bone is taken for the fusion from the iliac crest of the hip, that operative site can also be a source of pain or disability.

In recent years, there have finally been some advances in spinal surgery for herniated discs with the development of disc implants intended to avoid fusion and preserve joint movement in the injured vertebral segment. There are several manufacturers now performing clinical studies of their new implants. In the journal Spine, a two year study of the Bryan cervical disc implants was just published. The researchers followed 115 patients, 56 of whom had the new implants. Their study showed that the patients receiving the implants had less arm and neck pain when evaluated at one and two years after surgery, and they retained greater neck movement than in the patients receiving a fusion. The researchers believe that retention of greater movement will ultimately lead to less biomechanical stress on adjacent joints, and therefore to less injury to surrounding joints.

The surgeries involved only one cervical disc level with a focal disc herniation. Patients with retrovertebral compression, facet pathology, multilevel stenosis or significant degeneration are not currently deemed to be candidates for this type of implant.

Source: Artificial Disc Versus Fusion: A Prospective Randomized Study With 2-Year Follow-Up On 99 Patients, Spine. 2007;32(26):2933-2940; http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/568297; http://www.bryandisc.com/about-bryan-disc.html