Cervical Disc Replacement vs. Cervical Fusion Surgery: Understanding the Differences

Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

When it comes to treating cervical spine conditions, such as herniated discs or degenerative disc disease, there are various surgical options available. Two common procedures are cervical disc replacement and fusion surgery. Understanding the differences between these two approaches is essential for patients to make informed decisions about their treatment. In this article, we will explore the differences between cervical disc replacement and fusion surgery, including their goals, techniques, advantages, and other considerations.

Cervical Disc Replacement

Cervical disc replacement, also known as artificial disc replacement or total disc arthroplasty, is a surgical procedure that aims to replace a damaged or degenerated disc with an artificial disc implant. The primary goal of cervical disc replacement is to maintain motion and flexibility in the treated segment of the cervical spine. This procedure is often recommended for patients with symptomatic disc herniation or degenerative disc disease who have not responded to conservative treatments.

During cervical disc replacement surgery, the affected disc is carefully removed, and an artificial disc implant is inserted between the adjacent vertebrae. This implant is designed to mimic the natural disc’s function, allowing for continued movement and shock absorption. By preserving motion, cervical disc replacement may potentially reduce stress on adjacent discs and potentially minimize the risk of adjacent segment degeneration.

Fusion Surgery

Fusion surgery, also known as spinal fusion or arthrodesis, is another surgical technique used to treat cervical spine conditions. The goal of fusion surgery is to stabilize the affected area of the spine by fusing two or more vertebrae together. Unlike cervical disc replacement, fusion surgery eliminates motion at the treated spinal segment.

During fusion surgery, the damaged disc is removed, and bone graft material is placed in the empty disc space. This graft material serves as a bridge between the adjacent vertebrae, encouraging them to grow together and form a solid, fused segment. Additionally, plates, screws, or rods may be used to provide additional stability during the healing process.

Differences and Considerations

  1. Motion Preservation: Cervical disc replacement aims to maintain motion at the treated level, whereas fusion surgery eliminates motion. This key difference may have implications for patients’ postoperative range of motion and flexibility.
  2. Adjacent Segment Stress: Cervical disc replacement has the potential to reduce stress on adjacent discs, possibly lowering the risk of future degeneration. Fusion surgery, on the other hand, may transfer additional stress to adjacent segments, potentially increasing the risk of degeneration in those areas.
  3. Recovery and Rehabilitation: Recovery following cervical disc replacement surgery often involves a shorter hospital stay and quicker return to normal activities compared to fusion surgery. Fusion surgery typically requires a longer recovery period due to the bone fusion process.
  4. Revision Surgery: In the event of device failure or complications, revision surgery may be more complex and challenging for cervical disc replacement compared to fusion surgery.


Cervical disc replacement and fusion surgery are two distinct surgical approaches used to treat cervical spine conditions. While cervical disc replacement aims to preserve motion and potentially reduce stress on adjacent discs, fusion surgery eliminates motion to provide stability. Ultimately, the decision between these two treatments should be made in consultation with a qualified spine surgeon who can assess your specific condition, medical history, and treatment goals.

About the Author

Dave Harrison, MD

Dr. Harrison is a board certified Emergency Physician with a part time appointment at San Francisco General Medical Center and is an Assistant Clinical Professor-Volunteer at the UCSF School of Medicine. Dr. Harrison attended medical school at Tufts University and completed his Emergency Medicine residency at the University of Southern California. Dr. Harrison manages the editorial process for SpineInfo.com.