On June 16, 2016, David Wright, the New York Mets All-Star third baseman, had season-ending neck surgery to treat a herniated disc in his neck. Wright’s experience with prolonged and increasing symptoms is similar to what many others with a cervical herniated disc have gone through.
1. Rest and reducing repetitive strain is essential
Most types of neck pain subside on their own within a few weeks. Try avoiding strenuous activities like running or lifting heavy objects for a while.
When Wright’s neck issues first became problematic this season, the Mets gave him some time off from playing baseball to see if that would help.
2. Nonsurgical treatments usually are effective
For neck pain that doesn’t subside or keeps returning, it’s usually managed well with nonsurgical (conservative) treatments. Typical first-line treatment options include:
In Wright’s case, he was already following a strict physical therapy routine to maintain spine health. When his neck started acting up, he was given an oral medication and then a few days later tried an anti-inflammatory injection—neither of which were able to get him back on the field.
3. Neck surgery is a major decision
When rest and nonsurgical treatments aren’t providing enough relief to return to normal activities, then surgery might be considered. The decision to have surgery in your cervical spine is almost always elective, meaning it's your choice whether or not to have the surgery.
It’s a good idea to discuss surgical pros and cons with more than one surgeon, and to find a surgeon who focuses on cervical spine surgery and has favorable outcomes.
A couple of key questions you’ll want to ask your potential surgeon include:
- Do I really need surgery?
It helps to have realistic expectations for what a surgery may or may not fix. If neck pain is your only symptom, then surgery might not be the best option.
For example, it’s common for a herniated disc to irritate a nearby nerve root, which can cause symptoms of tingling, numbness, or weakness to radiate down one side into the shoulder, arm, or hand. Surgery may have a high success rate in terms of taking pressure off that nerve and eliminating the radiating symptoms, but it still might not eliminate the neck pain itself.
- What type of surgery is best for my situation?
Some neck conditions have multiple surgical options. For a herniated disc in the neck, the most common surgery is anterior cervical discectomy with fusion (ACDF), which is what Wright reportedly had. His damaged disc was removed, and the vertebrae above and below were fused together.
Doctors have told Wright he’ll only lose about 5% of his pre-surgery neck’s mobility, which will be important if he’s to swing a bat and make plays in the field—both of which require fluid neck movements.
Finally, check with your surgeon to ask about the expected normal course for your specific condition; it could be, for example, that if physical therapy is helping than pursuing it for a few months is likely to resolve your symptoms.
Before making a final decision, have the surgeon answer all of your questions about the surgical procedure—including questions about the recovery period. You’ll want to have a clear understanding of which activities to avoid while recovering and how long that might take.
For Wright, he plans to be ready to start the 2017 season.