Cervical Spine Surgery: An Overview

What is cervical spine surgery and which spinal neck disorders may be treated surgically?

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What is Cervical Spine Surgery?
Your orthopaedic surgeon or neurosurgeon may recommend cervical spine surgery to relieve neck pain, numbness, tingling and weakness, restore nerve function and stop or prevent abnormal motion in your neck.
Doctor pointing to a cervical x-ray imageA spine surgeon reviews a patient’s cervical x-ray.Your surgeon does this by removing a disc or a bone and fusing the vertebrae together with a bone graft either in front of or behind the spine. The bone graft may be one of two types: an autograft (bone taken from your body) or an allograft (donor bone from a bone bank). Sometimes metal plates and screws are also used to further stabilize the spine. These techniques are called instrumentation. When the vertebrae have been surgically stabilized, abnormal motion is stopped and function is restored to the spinal nerves. An alternative to spinal fusion is a cervical disc replacement using an artificial disc that enables neck motion and stabilizes the spine.

What are the Reasons for Cervical Spine Surgery?
Cervical spine surgery may be indicated for a variety of spinal neck problems. Generally, surgery may be performed for degenerative disorders, trauma or instability. These conditions may produce pressure on the spinal cord or on the nerves coming from the spine.

CAPTION: Detailed illustration of the bones, nerves, discs, and blood vessels in the cervical spine.Detailed illustration of the bones, nerves, discs, and blood vessels in the cervical spine.What Conditions are Treated with Cervical Spine Surgery?

Degenerative Disc Disease
In degenerative disease the discs or cushion pads between your vertebrae shrink, causing wearing of the disc, which may lead to herniation. You may also have arthritic areas in your spine. This degeneration can cause pain, numbness, tingling and weakness from the pressure on the spinal nerves.
Illustration of spinal nerve compressionThe potential causes of nerve compression is depicted in this illustration showing a bone spur, herniated disc and thickened spinal ligament.Cervical Deformity
Patients with a deformity in their cervical spine, such as hyperlordosis or swan neck deformity, may benefit from surgery to straighten and stabilize the spine. Upper neck disorders, also called craniocervical or craniovertebral junction abnormalities can affect the cervical spine.

Since the neck is so flexible it is vulnerable to injury. Some injuries can cause a fracture and or dislocation of the cervical vertebra. In a severe injury, the spinal cord may also be damaged. Patients with a fracture, especially with spinal cord damage, undergo surgery to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and stabilize the spine.

What are the Potential Complications of Cervical Spine Surgery?
As with any operation, there are risks involved with cervical spine surgery. Possible complications include injury to your spinal cord, nerves, esophagus, carotid artery or vocal cords; non-healing of the bony fusion; failure to improve; instrumentation breakage and/or failure; infection; bone graft site pain. Any of these complications may lead to more surgery.

Other complications may include phlebitis in your legs, blood clots in the lungs or urinary problems. Rare complications include paralysis and possibly death. Your surgeon will discuss potential risks with you before asking you to sign a consent form.

How is Revision Surgery different?
Revision surgery often requires correcting a deformity. The type of revision depends on the type of problem. The procedure may include operating on both the front and back of the neck.

The incidence of complications from cervical spine revision surgery is higher than in first-time procedures. It is also more difficult to relieve pain and restore nerve function in revision surgery. Patients should also be aware that the chance of having long-term neck pain is increased with revision surgery.

Updated on: 03/14/19
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Cervical Spine Surgery: Will You Need Surgery for Your Neck Pain?
Richard D. Guyer, MD
Patients should be aware that there may be individual variations according to the surgeon and the patient's particular situation. For example, time in hospital, choice of bone grafting techniques, internal fixation, post-operative activities. Otherwise, this information is very complete for his practice and is a an excellent overview for the average patient with the understanding of the above variations.
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Cervical Spine Surgery: Will You Need Surgery for Your Neck Pain?

You may require cervical spine surgery to address your neck pain. Expert-written article explaining all surgical techniques in clear language.
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