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Cervical Spinal Surgery

Cervical spinal surgery is used to correct the part of the spine in the neck, including problems with the bones (vertebrae), disks, and nerves.

The cervical spine is the part of the spine that runs through the neck area. It consists of seven vertebrae and eight pairs of spinal nerves (called C1 to C8). The two most common problems people have with the cervical spine are herniation and stenosis.

The specific cervical spine surgery depends on what is causing the problem. If there is a single herniated disk, then the disk may simply be removed through a surgical cut that is made in either the front or the back of the body. If more than one disk needs to be removed, the spine usually needs to be fused to keep it from becoming unstable.

Spinal stenosis is a more difficult problem to treat and generally requires more extensive surgery. Pressure needs to be taken off the spinal nerves and cord. This can be done through a surgical cut in the front or the back of the body. If removing the bone causes the spine to become unstable, spinal fusion may be needed.

Cervical spine surgery is generally used when rest, medication, and physical therapy do not work, and the pain and weakness gets worse.

The health care provider should give you solid information on the expected course of your neck pain and self-care options before discussing surgery. Make sure you ask your doctor about the pros and cons of surgery and how long symptom relief will last. Surgery does not always improve outcome and, in some cases, can even make it worse.

You should always try all possible non-surgical treatments before opting for surgery. When appropriate, surgery can provide great relief for patients whose pain does not go away with other treatments.

Surgery may also be performed if there are signs that the spinal cord is being compressed.

There are risks associated with any surgery including bleeding and infection. Additional risks specific to spinal surgery include injury to the spinal nerves or spinal cord, injury to the blood vessels feeding the spine, and failure of the bone to fuse. Fortunately, these complications are rare but they are serious and you should discuss them with your doctor before undergoing surgery.

More than 90% of patients who have surgery on a single herniated disk have complete or near-complete relief from their symptoms.

The results of more complex surgeries on multiple disks vary, and depend on the technique and the particular case. Spinal stenosis is more difficult to treat. About 50 - 90% of patients can expect good to excellent results.

The hospital stay may be up to about 7 days. You will be encouraged to walk the first or second day after surgery to reduce the risk of blood clots (deep venous thrombosis) and complete recovery takes about 5 weeks. Heavy work is not recommended until several months after surgery, if at all.