Cervical fusion or arthrodesis is a surgical procedure involving the linking of damaged vertebral column in the cervical area or in the neck. Cervical fusion is usually an aggressive management for injury to the cervical vertebrae and the discs between the vertebrae as a result of direct injury or chronic injury to the area.
In cervical fusion, the disc between the vertebrae is surgically removed to stimulate the adjacent vertebrae to connect together when bone growth occurs. While the bone growth is still immature, a piece of stainless steel or metal holds the fusion together.
Who Gets a Cervical Fusion?
People with disc herniation or damages on the discs usually get a cervical fusion surgery when all other conservative managements have been unsuccessful in relieving the symptoms. The disc between the vertebrae is a cushion that allows movement in between the vertebrae. However, in cases of disc herniation, the disc puts pressure on the underlying nerves, which causes intense tingling, numbness and pain on areas of the body below the disc herniation.
What Happens in Cervical Fusion?
During the cervical fusion surgery, the damaged disc or fragments of which are surgically removed. Since the disc is no longer in place, the vertebrae are already not connected to the adjacent vertebrae. To link them together, a bone graft can be performed or metal plates can be implanted. Bone graft is a permanent and direct solution to linking the vertebrae together. On the other hand, metal plates serve only as a support to the vertebrae until bone growth happens. During the recovery, bone growth happens between the vertebrae and this bone growth fuses the two vertebrae together forming a solid support to the spinal cord. Once bone growth has occurred and solid support has developed, the patient usually can resume his or her normal activities of daily living.
What to Do After the Cervical Fusion?
After surgery, recovery must be promoted to reduce the possible complications that may arise. Recovery is usually affected by various factors. Early resumption of activities when bone growth has still not emerged may lead to further injury to the surrounding structures around the metal plate. In this line, activities should be limited until 2 to 3 months when bone growth has been successful. Usually, patients are relieved from symptoms after a solid support on the vertebrae has been achieved and the success of the cervical fusion depends on the recovery from the symptoms such as pain.
Are there Possible Complications of Cervical Fusion?
Being an invasive treatment, cervical fusion can lead to possible infection, bleeding and difficulty swallowing. Nevertheless, infection can be prevented using prophylactic antibiotics as prescribed by the surgeon while bleeding can be prevented by adequate rest and avoidance of high impact activities following surgery. Another complication of cervical fusion is failure to relieve neck pain. Other patients may also have incomplete fusion wherein there is inadequate bone growth to support the vertebrae. When incomplete fusion occurs, additional surgery may be required. Nevertheless, statistics show that 90% of cervical fusions have been successful.
Cervical fusion is indeed one of the last resorts for managing disc herniation. If you are suffering from disc herniation or chronic back pain, talk to your doctor to evaluate your condition to manage it early.