For all cervical spine surgeries, patients are placed under general anesthesia, meaning that patients are put to sleep.
Most commonly, Dr. Ahuja goes in through the front making what’s called an anterior incision, but he will occasionally make an incision on the back of the neck (posterior approach). The most common cervical spine surgery that Dr. Ahuja performs, at his locations in southeastern Wisconsin, is an anterior fusion.
Anterior Cervical Decompression and Fusion
Cervical spinal fusion is used when multiple levels of vertebrae and discs are unhealthy. Entire discs and vertebrae may be removed, and stabilizing cages are put in their place.
To further stabilize the spine, Dr. Ahuja places a plate on the spine and secures it with screws.
A cervical fusion will limit some ability to look straight up or down by extending or flexing the neck. Rotation of the head to the right or left is not affected by this surgery.
To help regrow bone around the cage, bone collected during the surgery is placed inside the cage, stimulating regrowth during recovery. A bone stimulator may need to be worn after surgery to assist with this process.
A posterior fusion is often done in conjunction with an anterior fusion in order to further stabilize the neck.
In the posterior approach, compression on the spinal cord and nerves from the back is relieved.
Once the compression is removed, screws are drilled into the vertebrae and they are secured with rods to help increase the stability of the spine.
The bone removed during the surgery is ground up and used as a graft to help in the healing and fusion process.
Laminotomy and foraminotomy
The cervical spine is fragile. Whenever any work is done in the cervical spine, fusions are usually necessary to keep the spine stable. However, if the problem is small enough, a laminotomy or foraminotomy can be performed. These procedures are usually done through posterior incisions.
A laminotomy removes a portion of the lamina, which relieves pressure on the spinal cord and reduces pain.
In a foraminotomy,the openings on the sides of the spine (the foramen) are made wider so the nerves are no longer pinched.
What is Neck Surgery Recovery Like?
With a fusion, a collar may need to be worn for 4-6 weeks. Many people notice an early improvement in their arm pain; however there may be persistent neck pain or headaches until the collar is completely discontinued.
It is important for patients to talk to Dr. Ahuja or their physical therapist about correct posture and movements. Activity should be increased slowly every day, but patients should only do what they are comfortable with.
Also, cervical spine surgery patients should be sure to attend their follow-up appointments and stick with their post-operative plans.