First-of-its-kind device helps to alleviate pain, preserve range of motion in the neck
Patient Meryl L. Eddy (l.) and Dr. Francois Aldrich
Surgeons at the University of Maryland Medical Center are the first in Maryland to offer a newly approved artificial cervical disc to patients with degenerative disc disease in the neck. Studies have shown that replacing a damaged disc with the new stainless steel device is more effective than spinal fusion surgery in alleviating neck and arm pain and preserving range of motion. The first procedure was performed by Francois Aldrich, M.D., on Aug. 8, 2007.
“This new artificial disc is a big step forward in treating patients suffering from neck and arm pain because of cervical disc disease. It offers patients a remarkably effective option that alleviates pain and also preserves more of their mobility,” says Dr. Aldrich, a neurosurgeon at the University of Maryland Medical Center and associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Aldrich is also training surgeons locally and from other parts of the country on how to implant the new disc.
The Prestige artificial cervical disc, made by Medtronic Sofamor Danek, was approved last month by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat cervical degenerative disc disease, one of the most common causes of neck and arm pain. The device, which was tested in a clinical trial with 541 patients across the country, is the first cervical disc to receive FDA approval.
Dr. Aldrich says, “In a large nationwide study, patients who were treated with the artificial disc had a better outcome and function compared to those who had anterior spinal fusion, which has been the gold standard of care for degenerative disease in the neck. Many of the patients were also able to return to work sooner after having this new procedure.”
More than 60 percent of people over the age of 40 have some evidence of degeneration in the discs in their necks, most commonly caused by aging. As people get older, their discs shrink and lose the ability to cushion the vertebrae, causing the bones to rub and pinch nerves in the neck. More than 200,000 people have cervical spinal fusion surgery each year to alleviate the resulting arm and neck pain.
The cervical spine consists of seven vertebrae, or bones, which are separated by shock-absorbing discs, or cushions, that are made up largely of water, which allow people to bend and rotate their necks. The standard treatment is to remove the damaged disc to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots to alleviate the pain and then fuse together two or more vertebrae, using bone grafts and a metal plate. This procedure stabilizes the spine at that level, Dr. Aldrich says, but also limits the patient’s ability to move the neck where the fusion was done. The fusion may also put added stress on the adjacent discs, which may cause further deterioration down the road.
The Prestige artificial disc may be a good alternative for patients who have only one damaged disc, rather than multiple discs, and also experience pain, numbness and tingling in the arms as well as neck pain, Dr. Aldrich says.
The artificial disc consists of two main pieces of stainless steel with a patented ball-and- trough (groove) design that allows for a full range of motion, functioning much like a joint. The device fits into the space where the damaged disc was removed and is attached by screws to the vertebrae above and below it.
The first patient in Maryland to receive the artificial cervical disc August 8 is Meryl L. Eddy, 48, an attorney at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Eddy was one of only 30 people in the United States to have the device implanted since it was approved by the FDA on July 16, 2007. Eddy says she is delighted that she has almost instantaneously regained strength and mobility in her right arm, which had been severely limited prior to surgery.
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