What is a Cervical Spine Fusion?

Katriena Knights

When constant pain in the cervical spine, or neck area, cannot be successfully treated with other methods, a cervical spine fusion is sometimes performed. This surgical procedure fuses vertebrae in the neck to each other, limiting movement so that the pain is reduced or eliminated. At times, a cervical spine fusion is the best way to end long-term, debilitating pain.

An X-ray of the neck, including the cervical vertebrae.
An X-ray of the neck, including the cervical vertebrae.

Chronic pain in the cervical vertebrae is often caused by nerve compression. Fusing the vertebrae at the point where the nerves are compressed greatly reduces motion in the area. It can also help make additional room for nerves and nerve roots. The result is to reduce pressure on the affected nerves, thus reducing or even eliminating the pain.

Most will wear a cervical collar during the recovery process from a cervical spine fusion.
Most will wear a cervical collar during the recovery process from a cervical spine fusion.

Cervical spine fusion can also be performed after an injury to the neck to prevent damage to the spinal cord from fractures in the vertebrae. It can also help correct misalignment or deformities in the spine or treat problems that are caused by rheumatoid arthritis or other chronic conditions. In some cases, cervical spine fusion is performed to follow up treatment for a herniated disc or spinal stenosis, in which natural changes because of aging cause spinal cord alterations that compress the nerves.

A cervical spine fusion could be follow up to treatment for a herniated disc.
A cervical spine fusion could be follow up to treatment for a herniated disc.

Depending on the individual patient's needs, cervical spine fusion is performed in different ways. This type of surgery performed with an incision in the front of the neck is called an anterior cervical spine fusion. The surgery can also be performed through the back of the neck, in which case it is posterior cervical spine fusion.

The procedure itself consists of the removal of the disc between the vertebrae or the removal of an entire vertebrae. In between the remaining vertebrae, a bone graft can then be placed, and it will grow into the bones above and below, effectively fusing them together. Other approaches to cervical spine fusion include using metal implants or plates or using artificial fusion materials. Bone grafts are usually taken from the patient, most often from the hip bone, but a bone from a cadaver also can be used.

After a cervical spine fusion, movement in the neck is somewhat reduced, but this usually has little effect on the patient's overall mobility. As pain treatment, the procedure is successful in most cases. Post-operative complications sometimes occur and require follow-up surgery. Those undergoing the procedure usually must remain hospitalized for a short time while they recover and must wear a cervical collar for a short time afterward to keep the neck stationary during the healing process.

Sections of the spine.
Sections of the spine.

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