Dr. Andrew Castro

Chronic neck and nerve pain are among the most common problems addressed through spine surgery, and Beaufort Memorial is now offering a breakthrough, same-day procedure to alleviate neck pain and improve mobility. 

Called cervical disc replacement surgery, this FDA-approved procedure removes a damaged disc and replaces it with an artificial disc.

“The result of stress, poor posture, increased screen time and other factors, cervical disc pain may begin in the neck, but can quickly radiate across the shoulders and down the arms,” said Dr. B. Andrew Castro, Beaufort Memorial board-certified and fellowship-trained spine surgeon. “The source of the problem is the discs between your vertebrae, the structures that absorb all of that shock, strain and pain.”

The cervical disc replacement begins with a small incision on the front of the neck. State-of-the-art technology allows the surgeon to then access the spinal column through this incision, removing the problem disc and replacing it with a cervical disc prosthesis. This artificial disc is inserted between two healthy vertebrae, which anchor it in place. The precision engineering of the disc replacement gives almost the full range of motion of a healthy disc.  

“Most cervical disc replacements are done as an outpatient procedure,” said Dr. Castro, who performed the first cervical disc replacement surgery last month at Beaufort Memorial and is currently the only surgeon in the county offering the procedure. “There’s very little downside, very little blood loss, and you can usually be home the same day.”

Before this procedure was available, the preferred method for treating this chronic pain was a process called fusion. During spinal fusion, a surgeon inserts material between the two spinal bones, connecting both bones together, minimizing movement between them and reducing stress on the nerve. 

“With fusion, you’re immobilizing the vertebrae with a plate, which requires a hard collar for four to six weeks after the surgery,” said Dr. Castro, who sees patients at BOSS Orthopaedics in Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and Beaufort. “You can take pressure off the nerve roots and spinal cord, but it results in diminished movement because of the immobilization of the vertebrae. Also, the segments above and below are exposed to extra load.”

While he has seen countless patients benefit from this advanced technique, Dr. Castro cautions that it is more suitable for some patients than others. 

“There are certain conditions in the neck – trauma, tumors, spinal cord compression – that would make a disc replacement less ideal for that patient,” he said, noting that cervical disc replacement is more suitable for younger patients whose discs have not seen a lot of degenerative changes. 

“It’s designed for a relatively healthy disc which has a herniation,” said Castro. “But for those who fit the bill, this cutting-edge procedure can give people suffering chronic neck pain a new lease on life, with shorter recovery and a greater range of motion.”

To learn more about treatment for neck pain, visit BeaufortMemorial.org/NeckPain.

Lowcountry resident Barry Kaufman is a freelance writer.