Neck Disc Fix

For more than half of people over 40, a “pain in the neck" may be due to the degeneration of a spinal disc. Some people choose surgery, but that can cause even more wear and tear on other spinal discs in the neck. Now some Chicago area patients are trying an experimental alternative.

Tom Nihill needed spinal disc surgery, not in his lower back, but in his neck. When he played golf, it wasn't the pain so much as how weak it made him feel. Finally, Tom signed up for the standard surgery that removes the damaged spinal disc and fuses the two vertebrae around it.

But spinal fusion puts more wear and tear on the neck joints, which could mean more trouble in the years ahead. So his Neurosurgeon suggested Tom try something new, an experimental metal disc, which moves almost as much as a natural one. Artificial discs already are being used for the lower spine, but it's taken longer to design on for the neck, because any problem here could cause total paralysis.

There have been no complications in the study so far, and Tom noticed an additional benefit for the artificial disc. Unlike standard bone fusion, it doesn't take months to heal. Right now the discs are so new there are no results yet on long-term usage.