Posterior Cervical Fusion
The cervical spine is located in the neck region, which is one of the most important and agile parts of the body. It begins at the base of the skull and consists of seven bones separated by intervertebral discs that allow the spine to move freely. The neck has the greatest amount of movement of any area of the spine and is also responsible for protecting the spinal cord and providing support to the skull. Because of its vital function in our everyday lives, injury or disease of the cervical spine is a very serious condition.
The discs or joints between the vertebrae can deteriorate as we age or become damaged due to an injury, causing pain and sometimes movement difficulties. Often, a conservative course of treatment will be tried initially to lessen the symptoms. However, if these fail to provide sufficient relief, a surgical approach may be necessary.
Reasons for a Posterior Cervical Fusion Procedure from our Cervical Pain Doctors
A posterior cervical fusion procedure will often be recommended when it is necessary to provide stability to the upper spine following a fracture or other substantial damage in the area. It may also be performed in patients who are experiencing excessive motion between the vertebrae of the cervical spine or to correct a spinal deformity.
The surgery is conducted to promote the joining together, or fusion, of two or more of the cervical vertebrae. By fusing several bones into one, posterior cervical fusion can help to stabilize the neck and relieve much of a patient’s pain.
The Posterior Cervical Fusion Procedure
Prior to the surgery, the patient is given general anesthesia. Posterior cervical fusions are generally done with the patient lying face down on the operating table. As the name describes, this procedure is performed through the back, or posterior, of the body. An incision will be made in the midline of the back of the neck near the affected area of the spine. A bone graft is then attached to the vertebrae that will allow them to fuse together over time. The bone may be obtained from the pelvis or another part of the patient’s own body, a bone bank utilizing donor bone or a synthetic bone graft substitute.
If there is a damaged disc between the vertebrae or bone spurs that are placing pressure on the nearby nerves or spinal cord, they will be removed prior to the application of the bone graft.
For some patients, the use of instrumentation may be necessary during a posterior cervical fusion surgery. This typically involves the incorporation of a metal wire or rods and screws to maintain the positioning of the bones against one another as they fuse. Once the surgeon is finished, the incision is stitched closed and a rigid collar may be placed around the patient’s neck for support.
Recovery from a Posterior Cervical Fusion Procedure
After the posterior cervical fusion surgery is complete, a hospital stay of one to three days is typically required. However, the full recovery time may take between four and six weeks and the patient’s activities will be restricted. The surgeon will provide detailed information on what a patient may be limited from doing during the healing period. A program of physical therapy will likely be recommended to help promote a more successful recovery and increase the ability to comfortably move the neck.
Risks of Posterior Cervical Fusion
Although posterior cervical fusion is a safe, commonly performed procedure, all forms of surgery do carry some risks. In this case, the risks associated with posterior cervical fusion may include infection, bleeding, reactions to anesthesia, injury to the spinal cord, pain at the treated site, damage to nerves or arteries, blood clots and paralysis. These risks can be further minimized by choosing an experienced surgeon to perform the procedure and by adhering to the surgeon’s instructions both before and after the surgery.