Cervical Fusion

ExitCare ImageThe neck is the upper portion of your spine. The 7 bones in your neck are referred to as the cervical spine. Cervical fusion is a type of surgery that is done on the cervical spine to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or one or more nerve roots. There are two types of cervical fusion:

  • Anterior cervical fusion. This surgery is done through the front (anterior) part of your neck. During the surgery the affected intervertebral disk is removed to take pressure off the nerves or spinal cord. The area where the disc was removed is filled with a bone graft that causes the vertebral bodies to grow together (fuse) over time.

  • Posterior cervical fusion. This surgery is done through the back (posterior) of the neck. The surgery joins two or more neck vertebrae into one solid section of bone. Posterior cervical fusion is most commonly used to treat neck fractures and dislocations and to fix deformities in the curve of the neck.

LET YOUR HEALTH CARE PROVIDER KNOW ABOUT:

  • Any allergies you have.

  • All medicines you are taking, including vitamins, herbs, eyedrops, creams, and over-the-counter medicines.

  • Previous problems you or members of your family have had with the use of anesthetics.

  • Any blood disorders or blot clotting problems you have.

  • Previous surgeries you have had.

  • Medical conditions you have.

RISKS AND COMPLICATIONS

Generally, this is a safe procedure. However, as with any procedure, complications can occur. Possible complications include:

  • Infection.  

  • Bleeding with possible need for blood transfusion.  

  • Injury to surrounding structures, including nerves.  

  • Leakage of cerebrospinal fluid.  

  • Blood clots.

  • Temporary breathing difficulties after surgery.

  • Extended hospital stay, especially with posterior cervical fusion.

BEFORE THE PROCEDURE

  • Do not eat or drink for 6–8 hours before the procedure.  

  • Take medicines as directed by your surgeon. Ask your surgeon about changing or stopping your regular medicines.  

  • You will be given antibiotic medicines to keep the infection rate down.  

  • The surgical cut (incision) site on your neck will be marked.  

  • Your neck will be cleaned to reduce the risk of infection.

PROCEDURE

The length of the procedure depends on what needs to be done. It usually takes 2 or more hours. For both procedures, you will be given medicine to make you sleep (general anesthetic). A breathing tube will be placed down your throat.

Anterior Cervical Fusion 

  • An incision will usually be made in a skin fold line at the front of your neck, in the area where the fusion will be placed. 

  • The neck muscles will be pushed aside.  

  • The surgeon will remove the affected, degenerated disk and bone spurs (decompression). This helps to take the pressure off the nerves and spinal cord.  

  • The area where the disk was removed is then filled with a plastic spacer implant, bone graft, or both. These implants and bone grafts take the place of the disk and keep the nerve passageway open and clear for the nerves and spinal cord.  

  • In most cases, the surgeon will put metal plates, pins, or screws (hardware) in the neck to help stabilize the surgical site and to keep the implants and bone grafts in place. The hardware reduces motion at the surgical site, so the bones can grow together. This provides extra support to the neck.  

Posterior Cervical Fusion 

  • An incision will be made through the back of the neck.  

  • Two or more neck vertebrae will be joined into one solid section of bone.  

  • Metal plates and pins or screws may be placed in the neck. These help stabilize the neck, providing extra support to help the bones to grow together more easily.

AFTER THE PROCEDURE

  • You will stay in a recovery area until the anesthesia has worn off. Your blood pressure and pulse will be checked often.  

  • You may continue to receive fluids and medicines, such as antibiotics, through the IV tube for several days after the surgery.  

  • You may need to wear a neck or back brace for several weeks after surgery, especially when up and out of bed.  

  • You may be given pain medicine while still in the recovery area. Some pain is normal, but if your pain gets worse, tell your surgeon or nurse.  

  • Be up and moving as soon as possible after surgery. Physical therapists will help you start walking.  

  • To prevent blood clots in your legs:

  • You may be given compression stockings to wear.  

  • You may need to take medicine to prevent clots.

  • You may be asked to do breathing exercises. This is to prevent a lung infection.  

  • Most people stay in the hospital for 1–3 days after this surgery.