A herniated cervical disc does not always require fusion

Although the pain, tingling, numbness and weakness that can accompany a herniated cervical disc can diminish your quality of life, there are many effective treatment options. If you have been recommended for a spinal fusion to treat your symptoms, you should be aware of that there are alternatives to this type of procedure. In fact, traditional open spinal fusion is a leading cause of failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS), which describes new or returning symptoms caused by an unsuccessful spine procedure. Learning more about the full range of treatment options can help improve your chances of a positive treatment outcome and getting back to the life you deserve.

Herniated cervical disc overview

The cervical spine is located in the neck and the uppermost section of the back. This region is made up of seven vertebrae — labeled C1 to C7 — five discs that cushion and support them, small muscles, joints and spinal nerves that send sensory and motor signals to the neck, shoulders, arms and hands. As the discs between vertebrae degenerate with age, they lose elasticity and disc height. The weight of the body, combined with constant movement, can cause the discs to tear and extrude inner-disc material into the spinal canal, which is diagnosed as a herniated disc. This condition is not necessarily painful, with symptoms usually resulting from nerve compression by herniated disc material.

Cervical spine fusion

A surgeon performing traditional open cervical spine fusion to treat a herniated disc in the neck will access the affected portion of the spine through the front or back of the neck. The damaged disc is completely or partially removed and the disc space is slightly widened to make room for bone graft so that bone material can fuse with existing vertebrae to stabilize the area. This type of procedure typically involves a large incision that disrupts supporting muscles, leading to a high risk of complication and a long recovery time.

Alternatives to traditional fusion for a cervical herniated disc

Surgery for a herniated disc in the upper spine is seen as a treatment of last resort, with doctors usually first attempting a course of basic conservative options. In a very high number of cases, patients are able to find lasting relief through a plan that includes:

  • Physical therapy
  • Over-the-counter or prescription pain medication
  • Low-impact exercise
  • Hot/cold therapy
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Therapeutic massage
  • Improved posture and workplace ergonomics

If weeks or months of these conservative treatments do not prove effective in managing the symptoms of your herniated disc, it may be time to contact Laser Spine Institute. We offer an alternative to fusion procedures with our minimally invasive spine surgery. Our highly skilled surgeons perform minimally invasive decompression procedures as well as minimally invasive stabilizations, which are a type of fusion that use muscle-sparing techniques. All of our procedures are performed on an outpatient basis and offer less risk of complication and a shorter recovery time compared to traditional open spine surgery.^

To learn more and find out if you may be a candidate for one of our procedures, reach out to our team and ask for your no-cost MRI review.*

Browse Related Resources