How Cervical Disk Replacement Eased Frank Berardelli’s Unrelenting Nerve Pain
BY KRISTEN CHANLEY
For Frank Berardelli, 55, being active is a way of life. Berardelli, who played football in college, now coaches high school football and track. Off the field, he is an avid runner and strength trains four days a week. So, when he woke up to a pinched nerve in his neck in late February 2020, Berardelli worried it would affect his active lifestyle.
“Excruciating pain came out of nowhere, radiating from my neck down through my left shoulder all the way to my hand,” says Berardelli, a resident of South Abington Township, Pa. “I couldn’t sleep more than 20 minutes at a time, and nothing was helping.”
An MRI revealed a herniated (ruptured) disk in his neck, or cervical spine. Berardelli’s herniated disk pressed on a nerve, causing the pain, numbness and weakness he felt down his arm. He would need surgery to alleviate the pressure on his nerve.
Surgical options for a herniated disk
The standard surgery to treat disk issues is anterior (front) cervical fusion. In that procedure, the surgeon removes the disk through a small incision in the front of the neck. Then the vertebrae are fused together using a plate and screws.
A newer procedure, called cervical disk arthroplasty (replacement), offers an option to spinal fusion. The surgeon still removes the disk through an incision at the front of the neck, then replaces it with an artificial disk made of metal and plastic.
The benefits of cervical disk replacement surgery include:
More spinal mobility: An artificial disk allows the spine to move more naturally than fusion.
Less surgery-related pain: Since the implant is small, disk replacement is less invasive than fusion. It results in less pain, trouble swallowing and throat soreness following surgery.
Less wear and tear on adjacent disks: Replacement avoids the long-term deterioration that may eventually occur in disks located above and below a fusion.
Quicker return to activity: After fusion, a plate and screws hold the bones together while they heal, which may take months and requires activity restrictions. People can resume activities quickly after disk replacement.
Disk replacement surgery close to home
Berardelli assumed he’d need to go to Philadelphia for this type of advanced surgery. He was relieved, especially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, to find a high-level surgeon nearby at Coordinated Health Scranton Orthopedics, part of Lehigh Valley Health Network.
He met with Christopher Henderson, MD, the only orthopedic spine surgeon in the Scranton area performing cervical disk replacement. “When I first saw Frank, he was writhing in pain,” Henderson says. “I knew if I took the pressure off the nerve and replaced the disk, the pain would be gone, and he could get back to his active lifestyle quickly.”
Henderson scheduled the procedure for March 24, just one week after meeting Berardelli and three weeks after the onset of pain. The surgery was successful, and Berardelli went home the same day to begin recovery.
Back in action after cervical spine surgery
Berardelli still cannot believe how quickly the nerve pain ended. “I woke up from the surgery with no pain,” Berardelli says. “I kept expecting it to come back, but I’ve been completely pain-free and have full mobility in my neck. You wouldn’t even know I had surgery.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Berardelli did not have physical therapy. Instead, he began walking daily and slowly strengthened his arm. “As an active guy and a coach, Frank was working out and lifting weights before the surgery,” Henderson says. “He was able to ease back into those activities and rehab on his own.”
Within a month, Berardelli was back to running and working out. In July, he ran a 5K. “I feel fantastic,” Berardelli says. “It’s amazing to know that we have top-notch, high-quality surgeons like Dr. Henderson right here, close to home.”
Is cervical disk replacement right for you?
Cervical fusion is the most common surgery for severe disk herniation, but some people are good candidates for cervical disk replacement. To be considered for disk replacement, you should have:
No significant arthritis at the location of the herniated disk
No significant disk collapse
Good bone quality
No deformity in the neck (loss of the normal c-shape)
Stability at the disk level (no unusual movement)
If you are suffering from back or neck pain, visit LVHN.org/spine to learn more about how we can help you.