Dear Dr. Lowell,
I received a neck injury in an auto accident 5 months ago which compressed two vertebrae and is pinching the spinal cord nerve to my arms, causing severe pain and tingling and numbness to my arms/neck. I’ve been under neurosurgeon care. Surgery to fuse two discs is recommended. I’ve spoken with several people with similar conditions, including a 60 year old woman who had disc fusion in her back performed by an orthopaedic surgeon. This woman is the only person who is free of pain. He used the muscle material from around the problem area, versus bone material and metal used by the neurosurgeons. Would I have better results from the disc fusion using an orthopaedic surgeon’s method of fusion rather than the neurosurgeons’ recommended procedure?
Your question seems to be mainly about which type of surgery would be best for you. It sounds like you have asked several people who have had this type of surgery before, and that you found that the person who had one type of surgery got better while the others did not. I would like to warn you to be careful about this way of thinking. I think a much more important question to settle first would be: do you need surgery at all?
Based on the symptoms that you describe, it sounds quite possible that your problem is being caused by a herniated disc pressing on your nerves. However, a herniated disc is not the only possible cause of such symptoms. That is especially true in patients who suffer car accidents. Several times a day, I see patients in my office who have very similar symptoms to what you describe, but who have MRI’s that are either negative, or they show herniated disks that aren’t located in the right place to cause their symptoms. People can actually have herniated disks that don’t cause any symptoms, and which simply show up when an MRI is obtained. The art and science of spine surgery involves matching the MRI findings with a patient’s symptoms and determining who will benefit from surgery and who will not. Many people who get in car accidents have severe neck pain and arm pain that defies a good diagnosis, given our present technology. The temptation to operate can sometimes be enormous, both in the patient and in the doctor, and I suspect it is sometimes borne out of desperation. If the patient receives an operation for a “herniated disc” that really wasn’t causing the problem, they will obviously not improve.
I suspect that the patient you talked to who did well probably got better because she was operated on for the right reasons, and not simply because she had a particular surgical technique. I personally would recommend the surgical method in which bone is used for the fusion in the neck. If you are truly contemplating surgery, I would also recommend that you get a second opinion.