How is cervical disc disease treated?

Updated: Apr 16, 2020
  • Author: Michael B Furman, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Dean H Hommer, MD  more...
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For most cervical disc disorders, studies support conservative treatment, such as the McKenzie approach and cervicothoracic stabilization programs, combined with aerobic conditioning.

Physical modalities should be used to reduce pain only in the acute phase. Once past the acute phase, modalities are used sparingly on an as-needed basis.

Cervical traction may relieve radicular pain from nerve root compression. Traction does not improve soft-tissue injury pain. Hot packs, massage, and/or electrical stimulation should be applied prior to traction to relieve pain and relax muscles.

A soft cervical collar is recommended only for acute soft-tissue neck injuries and for short periods of time (ie, not to exceed 3-4 days' continuous use).

Spinal manipulation and mobilization may restore normal range of motion (ROM) and decrease pain; however, no clear therapeutic mechanism of action is known.

Cervical epidural, spinal nerve (or root), Z-joint, and sympathetic injections serve diagnostic and therapeutic roles. These procedures can be instrumental in determining the anatomic pain generator (eg, nerve root, facet) and providing aggressive, conservative treatment.

An anesthetic and corticosteroid mixture may be injected into the epidural space (interlaminar) or along the nerve root (transforaminal) after precise radiologic, contrast-enhanced fluoroscopic localization. [7]

Studies indicate that cervical HNP with radiculopathy can be managed conservatively. Surgery is warranted when neurogenic bowel or bladder dysfunction, deteriorating neurologic function, or intractable radicular or discogenic neck pain exists. Specifically, cervical spine surgical outcomes are most favorable for radicular pain, spinal instability, progressive myelopathy, or upper extremity weakness.

Surgical outcomes for patients with myelopathy have been shown to be significantly greater with regard to motor recovery if surgical intervention is performed less than 1 year after the onset of symptoms. [8]

The literature has demonstrated favorable cervical spine fusion outcomes for chronic discogenic axial neck pain when the presurgical evaluation has incorporated provocative cervical discography. However, fusion can increase intradiscal pressure and other stress at adjacent unfused levels, thereby accelerating postsurgical spinal degeneration. [9, 10, 11, 12, 13]

The possibility of obtaining the goals of anterior cervical decompression and fusion (ACDF) while maintaining adjacent segment motion led to the advent of total disk replacement (TDR).

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