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Disk deterioration

  My father has a condition causing the disks in his neck to deteriorate.
  This causes extreme, cronic pain because the verterbrae are touching and
  pinching nerves in his neck.  He has shooting pains down his neck,
  shoulder, arm and into his hands.  He has talked to neurologists and
  neurosurgeons.  He has been told that the only solution to the problem
  is to fuse his verterbrae together through surgery.  
  Doing this would restrict his mobility.  My father is a very active man.  
  We would like to know if there are any alternatives to surgery.  
  And, if there are, what are they?  He is 68 years old, but is in very
  good health other than this problem.  He is, as I said, very active.  
  He would like to stay active and we worry that this surgery would
  greatly restrict his ability to function as he has been doing.
Degenerative disc disease is very common. The usual affected areas are cervical (neck) and lumbosacral (lower back). As you describe, the discs dry up, crack, and shrink. The vertebral bodies also undergo some changes and the net result is less room for nerve roots and/or the spinal cord in the region. Usually, there is pain involved. Sometimes also there may be weakness or numbness, depending on whether the nerve roots and/or spinal cord are actually damaged.
Vertebral fusion is certainly an approach to reducing the problem. It may be the right one, but you are wise to seek other alternatives first. What you want is someone with a lot of experience with this who can tell you if surgery is absolutely the only thing to do, or if there are other things to try first.
The issue, of course, is how much function your dad would have if surgery were not done versus how much he could have if surgery were done. Age is not really a big factor here. Sounds like he's pretty healthy so it's even more important to do the best we can to get him up and running again.
If CCF is close, you are certainly welcome to seek a second opinion at the Spine Center, which is a cooperative effort among neurologists and neurosurgeons here. They see some pretty complicated cases here, so even if your dad has something out of the ordinary, they have a reasonable chance of being able to help him. At the very least, you'd get more information to help you make up your mind what to do.
Feel free to call 800 223-2273 and ask for neurology appointments: 4-5559. Hope this helps. CCF MD mdf.

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