Cervical fusion surgery

Cervical fusion surgery is a procedure performed in the cervical area of the spine to relieve pressure on one or more nerve roots, or on the spinal cord. The spine surgeon permanently fuses together the affected cervical vertebrae so that they heal together into a single, solid bone. The goals of cervical fusion surgery are to restore nerve function, relieve pain, numbness, tingling and weakness and prevent abnormal motion in the spine.

Conditions treated

Most neck and arm pain is caused by degeneration in the cervical area of the spine. The discs and joints between each vertebra are most commonly affected by the following conditions:

  • Degenerative disc disease – This disease wears down the discs (shock-absorbing cushions between the vertebrae of your spine), causing them to shrink and eventually rupture. When discs rupture, they bulge outside of their normal position between the vertebrae and can press on the spinal cord and the nerve roots that branch out from the spinal cord. Ruptured (herniated) discs can cause instability in the spine, abnormal movement and severe nerve compression symptoms such as pain, weakness, numbness and tingling in the neck and arms.
  • Cervical spondylolisthesis – Consists of one vertebrae slipping out of place onto another vertebrae, which is a result of abnormal wear and tear. It can be a very painful condition because the slipped bones grind against each other without the protective cushioning of the intervertebral disc.  The discs, joints and bones in the cervical region of the spine all are affected. Over time, cervical spondylolisthesis can create pressure on the spinal cord and the nerve roots that branch out from the spinal cord, resulting in severe nerve compression symptoms such as pain, weakness, numbness and tingling in the neck and arms.
  • Cervical spinal stenosis – The cervical spinal canal or vertebral foramen become narrowed and cause compression of the spinal cord and the nerve roots that branch out from the spinal cord, causing severe nerve compression symptoms such as pain, weakness, numbness and tingling in the neck and arms.

Anterior cervical fusion surgery

This is the most commonly used type of cervical spine surgery. It often is used in conjunction with an anterior cervical discectomy, the surgical removal of damaged disc(s). Your spine surgeon reaches your cervical spine through a small incision in the front (anterior) of your neck. After the soft tissues of the neck are separated, the damaged intervertebral disc(s) and bone spurs are removed. A bone graft is then placed between the vertebrae to fuse them together and recover spinal stability. The bone graft may be a piece of bone from your own pelvic bone or from a donor bone from a bone bank.

Results

Most patients spend three to five days in the hospital after cervical fusion surgery. During your hospital stay, a physical therapist will work with you on proper techniques for daily activities. You may use a neck brace to reduce stress and promote healing. You may be able to return to work as soon as two weeks after surgery. Studies show that up to 95 percent of patients experience good or excellent results from cervical fusion surgery.

The multidisciplinary team of spine experts at Northwell Health Orthopaedic Institute performs cervical fusion surgery as well as a broad range of nonsurgical and surgical treatments for conditions that affect the spine.

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