What is a Cervical Spinal Fusion?
A Cervical Spinal Fusion, or arthrodesis, is a surgical procedure in which certain bones in the neck are fused together. These bones are fused together to keep the spine stable following an injury, tumor, or infection. Patients needing a cervical spinal fusion often report feelings of weakness, numbness, or radiating pain down the arm. In most cases, conservative treatments are initially performed. Conservative treatments include steroid injections, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory medications. If conservative treatments do not alleviate the pain, surgery will be performed. Depending on the physician, there are multiple methods of performing a cervical spinal fusion. A bone graft can be used to create a bridge between adjacent vertebrae. This bone graft can be an allograft or autograft and it stimulates the growth of new bone. Other options include metal implants, metal plates, removing a spinal disc and fusing the adjacent vertebrae, or even removing the entire vertebra and fusing the spine.
The patient is be placed under general anesthesia which means they are completely unconscious for the duration of the procedure. Since there are multiple techniques for performing a cervical spine fusion, the surgeon chooses the most appropriate method for the patient. This decision is based on the reason for the fusion, the patients body weight and shape, and the patients overall general health.
In a typical Cervical Spinal Fusion, the patient is placed under general anesthesia and the surgeon creates an incision from the front of the neck, back of the neck, or in either side of the spine. Once an incision is made, the surgeon prepares the bone graft that fuses the two vertebrae together. This bone graft comes from the patient’s body, typically the pelvis, or from a bone bank. The surgeon then places the bone graft between the vertebrae to fuse the vertebrae together. The surgeon may utilize metal plates, screws, or rods to help stabilize and hold the vertebrae together while the bone graft heals and fuses the vertebrae.
Following a cervical spinal fusion, the patient typically stays in the hospital for two to three days. Some pain and discomfort may be felt but medications typically control any pain. A brace may be recommended to keep the spine aligned, as it can take several months for the bones in the spine to fuse together and heal. A physical therapy protocol is prescribed along with the potential of an occupation therapy protocol.
Physical and Occupational Therapy teaches patients how to properly sit, stand, walk, and perform daily tasks without further injuring the spine and keeping the spine properly aligned. Having the procedure of a cervical spine fusion does not eliminate the possibility of developing additional backpain in the future. Arthritis causes most degenerative conditions of the spine and cannot be cured once it develops. Immobilizing and fusing together a part of the spine can also place additional stress on the vertebrae surrounding the fusion.