What is Cervical Fusion Surgery?
Cervical fusion is a surgical procedure used to stabilize the neck and protect the spinal cord. It can be a treatment for conditions like:
- Misalignment of vertebrae
- Spinal stenosis
- Herniated disc
- Damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis
- Spinal deformities
The surgery fuses two or more vertebrae together. As they heal, they become one, stabilizing them, strengthening them, and reducing pain. Fusion eliminates any movement between the vertebrae and can prevent irritation to the surrounding nerves and tissues.
Fusion surgery is generally not an option unless other non-surgical methods fail and the source of pain is clearly visible with imaging tests, like X-rays.
There are different techniques used in spinal fusion surgery. Which one your surgeon uses will depend on which vertebrae need to be fused, the reason, and sometimes on your overall health and body shape. There are two main types of fusion: anterior cervical fusion and posterior cervical fusion.
In general, surgery removes the soft, gel-like disc between the problem vertebrae. Bone grafts are then inserted between them. As the bone grafts heal, they create a bridge between the vertebrae, making them function like a single bone. Sometimes, metal plates and screws are used to give the graft extra stability while it heals.
Spinal fusion surgery requires general anesthesia, so you’ll be unconscious during the procedure. Your surgeon will make an incision in the appropriate location for the vertebrae being fused. If your graft uses your own bone tissue, your surgeon will also make an incision at a different site on your body to remove a small piece of bone for your graft.
Your surgeon will discuss the best option for your specific diagnosis at your consultation.
After surgery, you’ll need to stay in the hospital for two to three days. You will be encouraged to stand and walk the day after surgery. When you’re cleared to go home, you’ll be given exercises to do at home and may be prescribed physical therapy as well.
It may take up to six months for the bone to completely heal. You may need to wear a brace (cervical collar) to keep your spine aligned while healing. During that time, you’ll notice your symptoms and mobility gradually improving.
Immediately after surgery, you will need to restrict your activity to gentle movements like walking. As you heal and grow stronger, your doctor will allow you to increase your activity level.
Carefully following your doctor’s post-operative instructions will help you achieve your very best results.
Like any surgery, there are some risks. Possible complications are:
- Blood clots
- Surgical pain
- Injury to the surrounding tissues
- Injury to the spinal cord
- Leaking spinal fluid
- Pain at the site or where bone was taken for the graft
- Reaction to the anesthesia
You can help minimize risks by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, not smoking, and following your surgeon’s instructions while you heal.
Where do the bone grafts come from?
Bone grafts can be synthetic or natural bone from a donor or your own body. If your surgeon uses your bone tissue, he will remove a small piece during your surgery.
Will I still be able to move my neck?
Most people don’t notice any loss of mobility from surgery, even though cervical fusion stiffens a part of the neck. Many people find it easier to move after surgery because they are no longer limited by pain. Your results will depend on several factors, including your overall health.
Will surgery cure my condition?
Surgery can relieve your pain, but it can’t cure the condition that caused it. For instance, it may relieve the pain caused by osteoarthritis, but you’ll still have osteoarthritis after surgery, and your symptoms can eventually come back.
If you think cervical fusion surgery may be right for you, schedule a consultation visit today.