Degenerative disc disease (DDD) can affect any part of the spine. The lumbar spine (low back) is the most common site of problems. But the cervical spine (neck) can also develop DDD.
Neck and arm pain are the most common symptoms with cervical spine disc disease. Daily function can be seriously compromised. Disability is the main reason patients seek fusion.
But studies show that disc disease is common at the level above or below the fusion. This is called adjacent degenerative disease. Since there's no motion at the fused level, force and load transfer to the next level. Increased pressure within the discs leads to damage and break down of the disc material.
Up to 25 per cent of patients who have had a cervical fusion start to have neck and/or arm pain again within 10 years. Usually these symptoms are caused by degenerative changes of the adjacent segments. It is not uncommon for patients with one-level cervical fusion to require another fusion later on.
These complications are what have led scientists to develop artificial disc replacements (ADRs). Studies are ongoing comparing the results of fusion to ADRs. This treatment is a fairly new development so long-term studies aren't completed yet. Hopefully, the problem of adjacent degeneration will be taken care of with ADRs.