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New advances in cervical artificial disc replacement can lead to revolutionary improvements in motion and mobility

By Andy Stonehouse
Sponsored by Dr. Ernest Braxton, Vail Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery
After his neck pain became unmanageable with basic treatment, Teddy Errico explored surgical options and learned about cervical artificial disc replacement with Dr. Ernest Braxton. (Photo courtesy of Vail Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery)
After his neck pain became unmanageable with basic treatment, Teddy Errico explored surgical options and learned about cervical artificial disc replacement with Dr. Ernest Braxton. (Photo courtesy of Vail Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery)

The active lifestyle of folks in the High Country certainly produces its share of neck and spinal injuries and lots of accelerated wear and tear. But the good news is that a local specialist can offer an up-to-date, truly world-class solution for many patients, allowing them to return to their busy lives with less pain and without a neck fusion.

Dr. Ernest Braxton, a noted neurosurgeon with offices at Vail Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery in both Eagle and Summit counties, is a leading expert at treatments involving cervical artificial disc replacements. Unlike the old days, where disc fusion surgeries were often the primary solution to disc damage, Braxton said that the newest generation of artificial disc implants can lead to much faster recovery times and marked improvement in both mobility and reduction of pain and discomfort.

“We provide a service for motion preservation, and a big alternative to fusion,” Braxton said. “Disc replacement maintains motion, and reduces and prevents adjacent segment disease. And we’ve had a 90% satisfaction rate –revision surgeries are less common on a disc replacement procedure.”



Dr. Ernest Braxton, a noted neurosurgeon with offices at Vail Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery in both Eagle and Summit counties, is a leading expert at treatments involving cervical artificial disc replacements. (Photo courtesy of Vail Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery)
Dr. Ernest Braxton, a noted neurosurgeon with offices at Vail Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery in both Eagle and Summit counties, is a leading expert at treatments involving cervical artificial disc replacements. (Photo courtesy of Vail Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery)VSO Dr Braxton 2 DT 8-27-19 Dominique Taylor/Dominique Taylor Photography

All of that, right here at the Vail Valley Surgery Center, in an outpatient setting that often allows patients to be back to their active lives.

Some real-life experience with artificial disc replacement
Like many Colorado residents, 53-year-old Telluride Realtor Teddy Errico has always played a little too hard – whether that be skiing, hockey, golf, softball or surfing.

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“I had a little too much fun over all the years, especially all those fun things we do on the mountain,” Errico said.

Fifteen years ago, trouble began with a herniated C4-5 disc in his neck. Errico said he initially managed with PT visits and a stretching regimen. But by 2019, he had developed severe neck and arm pain that would go away with conservative care.

“I thought I could just grind through the pain, as you do in mountain life, but after getting some relief from a chiropractor visit, it never got better, and my doctor suggested I might need surgery,” he explained. 



COVID-19 complicated Errico’s options, but after talking to a half dozen specialists across the state, Errico got in touch with Braxton and said he was immediately impressed by his approach, and his suggestion of cervical artificial disc replacement.

Errico added “I knew his resume and I was impressed by how unbelievably well you get treated by his staff,”

Braxton said the technology involved in artificial disc replacement has been in existence in the United States since 2007, but the device he now uses was approved by the FDA in April 2021 for two levels. Made of PEEK (Polyether-ether-ketone) and ceramic, the discs are an artificial ceramic and biopolymer mix that makes them more compatible with MRI scans.

Braxton said cervical artificial disc replacement is not for everyone, but for otherwise healthy patients aged 18 to 65, it can be an ideal solution and an excellent alternative to fusion surgery. (Photo courtesy of Vail Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery)
Braxton said cervical artificial disc replacement is not for everyone, but for otherwise healthy patients aged 18 to 65, it can be an ideal solution and an excellent alternative to fusion surgery. (Photo courtesy of Vail Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery)

After an initial, more traditional surgery in late January 2021, Errico said much of his hip pain had dissipated, and he was even able to snowboard a bit during closing week at his local hill. But the neck pain was still a big issue, and Braxton arranged to provide Errico the disc replacement surgery on April 23.

“I was literally out by 1:30 p.m. that day, and I spent some time afterward in a neck brace that was more awkward than painful. Dr. Braxton gave me great advice to walk as comfortably as I could to get the blood moving, and I was able to leave town the next day.”

A fast and full recovery is the goal
Errico said the results were fantastic, and immediate. “It could not have gone better,” he said. “I do five sessions of PT a week and am walking two to four miles a week, and the range of motion in my neck is just about normal. My goal was always 100% to get back to what I was doing, and they’ve said I don’t have to change anything when I am completely healed. That’s been very exciting for me.”

Realtor Teddy Errico is looking forward to returning to his active mountain lifestyle skiing, golfing and wake boarding after recovery from a cervical artificial disc replacement performed by Dr. Ernest Braxton at Vail Valley Surgery Center. (Photo courtesy of Vail Summit Orthopaedics & Neurosurgery)

Braxton said the procedure is not for everyone, but for otherwise healthy patients aged 18 to 65, it can be an ideal solution and an excellent alternative to fusion surgery.

“The primary advantages are faster recovery, as there are no screws or plates involved, and fewer incidents of reoperations being necessary,” he said. “Also, there’s less incidence of pseudoarthrosis, which occurs when fusion fails to heal.”

For more about cervical artificial disc replacement and Dr. Ernest Braxton, visit vsortho.com or braxtonmd.com.


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