Anterior cervical decompression surgery and spinal fusion may become a necessary option for patients who have been treated with non-surgical procedures that have had little or no success. Whether you have an injury or a degenerative condition that is causing you severe pain or limitations in your everyday activities, an anterior cervical decompression surgery with decompression is sometimes the best treatment plan to address the root cause.
Decompression surgery is a procedure often used to correct an abnormality such as a herniated cervical disc. In a healthy spine, there are fluid filled cushions between vertebrae that prevent the bones in the column from rubbing against each other. When the discs bulge or rupture, this protrusion can cause compression of the spinal cord, resulting in debilitating pain as well as loss of feeling and strength in the neck, shoulders and arms. Many patients with a herniated disc or another condition causing spinal cord compression can find pain relief through non-surgical procedures. However, there are times when a surgical approach is necessary and when an anterior cervical decompression surgery is determined as the best treatment plan for a patient, it is important to know the facts about the procedure and the prognosis for recovery.
Rothman Institute performs over three thousand spine surgeries every year, and many of these are operations for anterior cervical decompression and fusion procedures. While every surgery comes with its set of risks, spinal operations can be particularly complex. For this reason, we want to share a few commonly asked questions about this procedure, so that you and your doctor can make an informed decision about the best course of action for your particular situation.
How do I know if I need this operation?
If your physicians have determined that you have a herniated cervical disc that is causing pressure on your spinal cord, a cervical decompression and fusion procedure may be necessary. In addition to disc bulging and rupturing, this pressure and pain may be caused by bone spurs or a degenerative condition such as spinal osteoarthritis (also known as spondylosis). As soon as you begin to experience severe pain in your arm(s), it is important to talk to your doctor in order to explore your treatment options.
What is a cervical fusion surgery and do I need this in addition to a decompression?
If you have a discectomy (surgical removal of the herniated disc), there is no longer a cushion of soft cartilage maintaining height and structure of your cervical spine or protecting your vertebrae from grinding against each other. In order to prevent collapse and deformity of the cervical spine, or when another abnormality leads to problems between two or more vertebrae, it may become necessary to fuse the bones together to prevent excessive movement. We typically use a bone graft to fill the space between vertebrae, which then fuse together and promote strength and stability in that previously damaged area of the spine.
What are the risks of the surgery and what can I do to help my recovery process along?
Along with the risks that come with most surgeries, anterior cervical decompression surgery has a few rare, but potential complications, the most significant of which are injury to the spinal cord and nerve root injury. Following your physician’s advice before and after surgery is an important piece to having a successful procedure and recovery. For example, you will be advised to quit smoking prior to surgery and you should take this recommendation very seriously. Your doctors will discuss potential complications as well as helpful recommendations with you prior to your procedure.