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Lose the pain – gain mobility in your neck

Bookmark and Share What if you couldn't bend your head down to look at a new pair of shoes or turn it to watch your child play?

Your neck, with its ability to twist, turn, bend and tilt is part of an amazing piece of architecture called the spinal column: 33 vertebrae and discs that extend from the base of the skull to the pelvis.

When the cushiony discs sandwiched between each vertebra in the neck deteriorate due to disease or injury, it is called cervical spine degenerative disc disease (DDD).

Joan O'Shea, MD, Virtua spine surgeon and neurosurgeon, describes it: "Symptoms like pain that radiates into one or both arms, or a weakness in the arms, could mean a neck disc is pressing against spinal nerves." She adds that pressure on the spinal cord could cause paralysis.

Dr. O'Shea corrects the problem by replacing the entire diseased disk with an artificial cervical spinal disc - the most advanced technology available. The procedure is appropriate for younger patients with good bone structure who need only one disc replaced. This approach gives patients a more natural range of motion at the level where the diseased disc was originally located.

Surgeons used to correct severe DDD with a spinal fusion. The procedure would remove the diseased disc and fuse the adjacent two vertebrae with metal plates and screws.

Today, artificial disc replacement usually takes about 90 minutes and is performed through a one-inch incision. Once the diseased disc is removed, the artificial disc is secured into place.

"Throughout the procedure, I monitor nerve messages from the brain as they travel down the spinal cord," says Dr. O'Shea. "This extra step provides the utmost safety for patients, which is critical when I work near the spinal cord." Patients are usually up and walking the day of surgery, and most drive within one week.

Still, not everyone is a candidate for this procedure. "It's important to first exhaust all conservative treatment methods such anti-inflammatory medications or epidural steroid injections," she says. Your surgeon is best qualified to help make a decision about whether a spinal fusion or artificial disc replacement is best for you.

Virtua's Spine Program is part of its Musculoskeletal Institute, which offers a complete continuum of care for all spine, orthopaedic and sports medicine problems.