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If you have neck pain you are not alone. It’s estimated that each year, one in three people experience some type of neck pain.
While most of these cases are simple neck strain that can resolve over time with spine therapy and other non-surgical treatment options, there are many serious neck pain issues, including herniated discs and fractures that require surgery.
It’s important for the neck pain sufferer to understand that your choice of physician will be the most important decision influencing the quality of healthcare you will receive. There are 4 main areas that should affect your choice of neck surgeon to address your neck pain symptoms.
1. Specialization in neck surgery only
Like anything else in life, practice makes perfect, and those physicians who specialize in a specific niche — like focusing only on neck surgery and nothing else — will tend to become more proficient than another surgeon who treats the entire spine along with brain tumors. Simply put, the neck specialist will likely do twice as many neck surgeries in a given year than another generalist spine surgeon who does both low back surgery and neck surgery.
For example, Dr. Sanjay Jatana only treats neck problems, and only performs neck surgery. He has elected to specialize in cervical spine surgery, and refers low back cases to his three partners at Denver Spine Surgeons (DenverSpineSurgeons.com):
Gary Ghiselli, MD; David A. Wong, MD and Okezie K. Aguwa, MD. All of these spine surgeons are also fellowship trained and perform a large volume of low back surgery.
2. Fellowship training
The 2nd issue relates to specialized training. Fellowship training is the highest level of medical education possible in the United States. After extensive training as an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon, some elite surgeons elect to do another year of training at an elite regional spine center focusing specifically on spine surgery, doing only spine surgery cases, rather than splitting their time among brain surgery or hip or knee surgery.
3. Minimally invasive surgery & advances in neck surgery
The 3rd issue that the neck pain sufferer needs to consider is that there is great variation in how spine surgeons perform neck surgery. Here are just a view of the main variations that a neck patient may find.
Variation #1: Out of date surgical methods
Some physicians stay current with the most advanced surgical methods like minimally invasive spine surgery where the surgeon operates through narrow tubular retractors about the width of a ball point pen. These narrow tubular retractors use tiny cameras and cutting devices in the tip. This takes extensive training to become proficient because the surgeon is operating through a tiny inch-long incision.
Some other surgeons, however, prefer to make longer 3 inch incisions because that is how they were trained 20 or 30 years ago. While it’s easier for the surgeon to operate through a 3-inch open incision, the patient has a longer and more painful recovery.
Variation #2: Recommending fusion rather than motion preservation
The traditional treatment for a herniated disc in the neck has typically been a discectomy that removes the herniated disc which is pressing on a nearby nerve root causing symptoms of radiating pain or numbness or weakness in a hand. When that damaged disc is removed, something has to be inserted to retain the disc height. In a fusion, a piece of bone is inserted as a disc spacer.
Research, however, has documented that when you lock two vertebrae together in a neck fusion, you cause “adjacent segment disease”. This means that a fusion may place more stress on the disc level above and below the fusion site, causing other discs to herniate.
The most advanced neck surgeons may recommend for patients who qualify, an artificial disc replacment. In disc replacement surgery, a tiny artificial disc is inserted in the disc space which enables the neck to retain movement. This is called motion preservation surgery, which requires advanced training and approval by the companies that manufacture the artificial disc.
Dr. Jatana is trained in the use of the most popular artificial discs, including Mobi-C and Prodisc-C which are FDA approved for two levels in the neck.
4. Emphasis on non-surgical treatment options first
The 4th concern relates to a neck surgeon not providing non-surgical treatment options first. Nonsurgical treatment options for neck pain can include:
- Pain-relieving spine therapy with spine therapists or DCs who have advanced training in manual therapy that can include manipulation of the neck which may relieve pain symptoms.
- Customized neck exercises that strengthen the muscles and ligaments in the neck to make the neckstronger, more flexible and resistant to future strain.
- Cervical injections that place medication directly near a herniated disc to reduce inflammation around a nerve root, which can relieve symptoms, temporarily or permanently.
- Consideration of other alternative mediine options like acupuncture.
At Jatana Spine, the clinical team tries to consider all your treatment options in advance of spine surgery.
Becoming a well-informed healthcare consumer
You will find on this educational Internet site information about home remedies for neck pain, non-surgical treatment options, what is involved in a second opinion for neck surgery, and what your neck pain symptoms mean.
Unlike other medical problems, with back or neck pain, it’s crucial for you to know that pain can be a bad indicator of when you need to see a doctor.
For example, a neck strain can be excruciatingly painful. But “neck strain” is never a surgical problem. Instead, the emergency symptom for neck problems is weakness or numbness in an arm or hand. If these symptoms aren’t seen within a week by a spine surgeon, the numb hand or weakness in the hand can become permanent and lifelong. Other symptoms that also imply that a herniated disc is pressing on a nerve root is pain that radiates into an arm or hand.
Through this educational Internet site, you will learn about:
- what is causing your neck pain
- when to see the doctor
- when to use watchful waiting for neck pain and when you can’t
- what non-surgical treatment options relieve back pain
- cervical spinal injections and neck therapy specialists
- treatment for herniated discs in the cervical spine
- cervical stenosis and cervical myelopathy
- when minimally invasive neck surgery, or even artificial disc replacement, can sometimes be the best and quickest way back to a pain-free active life
- laser spine surgery for the neck
- artificial disc replacement for the neck
The good news is that even if surgery is required, many times this can be done in the morning, and you can be home later the same day.
Sanjay Jatana, MD is one of the top spine surgeons in Colorado, based in Denver, who specializes in the treatment of neck pain and neck surgery. Within this neck specialist practice, Dr. Jatana provides second opinions for spine surgery and MRI reviews of the neck. Philosophically, Dr. Jatana emphasizes non-surgical treatment options in advance of neck surgery. Where spine surgery is necessary because of a herniated disc, spinal fracture, or spinal stenosis, Dr. Jatana uses minimally invasive spine surgery techniques and advanced technology like the artificial disc to help patients relieve pain symptoms and get back to activity. This spine surgery expertise enables many patients to have outpatient spine surgery and be home the same day.
Dr. Jatana’s patients travel from across the Front Range, including: Boulder; Colorado Springs; Pueblo; Fort Collins; and Denver suburbs like Golden and Aurora. Dr. Jatana’s office can provide out of town patients travelling from Vail; Aspen; Grand Junction; Durango; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Kansas or Nebraska with recommendations on nearby hotels.
Accepted Insurance Plans:
If you have questions about your specific plan please call our office at 303-MY-SPINE for more information.
- Assurant Health
- Cigna-Great West
- Rocky Mountain Health Plans
- Tricare – West, Standard and Prime (with a referral)
- United Healthcare/UMR
- Worker’s Compensation