Degenerative disc disease (DDD) of the neck (cervical) region spine indicates that the intervertebral disc has undergone degenerative, wear-and-tear (arthritic) changes, which may or may not lead to significant neck pain and spinal problems. These degenerative changes may occur alone or in combination with other cervical disorders such as a herniated disc or cervical spinal stenosis or narrowing. 

How is it diagnosed?

The diagnosis of DDD of the neck is ultimately confirmed if moderate or severe disc height loss is observed on a cervical X-ray. If there is only mild DDD, an MRI is required. The doctor must then evaluate the location and quality of the neck pain to determine if the degenerated disc is actually generating the patient’s pain. 

What are the treatment options?

Conservative treatments

Treatment for DDD of the neck is primarily conservative. The majority of patients with significant pain generally improve with time with non-surgical treatments such as oral medications and/or physical therapy. A short period of immobilization with a soft neck brace (cervical collar) may also be helpful. Steroid injections are usually not effective unless there are other associated spinal conditions such as spinal stenosis, herniated disc, etc.

Surgical treatments

Patients who do not benefit from conservative treatments and still have disabling degenerative disc disease pain are considered candidates for surgery. The surgery for isolated DDD is anterior cervical fusion or artificial disc replacement (disc arthroplasty). When the disease involves more than just a disc, the entire vertebrae may be removed. This procedure, a cervical corpectomy, is often done to treat stenosis with spinal cord compression caused by bone spur growth. A bone graft fusion may also be required.