What is a Cervical Fusion?

A cervical fusion surgery is performed to permanently join selected bones in the cervical spine (neck) and eliminate the motion between them to improve stability, correct a deformity or reduce pain. Cervical fusions are performed for a variety of reasons including:

  • Treatment for a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, rheumatoid arthritis and spinal deformities
  • To stabilize the neck and prevent a bone fracture following an injury  
  • Correction of vertebral misalignment

One of the most common cervical fusions performed is the anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF), which is done to remove a herniated or degenerative disc in the neck. Once healed, a majority of patients experience pain relief in their arm and neck.

With this surgery from Orlando Orthopaedic Center, patients typically go home the same or next day with recovery lasting about four weeks.

What Happens During a Cervical Fusion?

Cervical fusion surgery is done to join two spinal vertebrae in the neck. The procedure can be completed through an incision in the front (anterior) or back (posterior) of the neck. Once the incision is made, your surgeon will place bone or a bone-like material between two spinal vertebrae and use screws and rods to help hold the vertebrae. As they heal, they will fuse into one solid unit.

In some cases, an entire vertebra can be removed and then the spine will be fused with a process known as an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF).

After three to six months, the bone graft used in cervical fusion surgery will join the two vertebrae together and form a solid piece of bone.

Who Is a Candidate for Cervical Fusion Surgery?

Cervical fusion surgery is performed to improve stability, correct a deformity or reduce pain in patients. Your surgeon may recommend a spinal fusion once all conservative, nonsurgical methods have failed.

Patients in need of a cervical fusion may be suffering from the following spine problems:

  • Chronic neck pain. When patients experience neck pain that does not go away, a cervical fusion may be used to restrict spinal motion as a means to relieve back pain that cannot be traced to a specific disorder.
  • Herniated disc. Spinal fusions are often used to stabilize the spine once a damaged (herniated) disc has been removed.
  • Excessive spinal weakness or instability. When there is excessive motion between two vertebrae, this may cause spinal instability and pain – a common symptom of arthritis in the spine. In some cases, cervical fusions may be used to restore lost stability.

What to Expect After a Cervical Fusion

Recovery time once you are released from the hospital typically lasts four to six weeks. You will visit with your spine surgeon again four weeks after surgery for your initial follow-up appointment. At that time, your surgeon will check to make sure fusion is occurring and answer any questions you may have about the recovery process.

As you heal, you will be instructed to wear a cervical collar to limit motion and provide support. Once your neck has healed, your surgeon may prescribe neck exercises and/or physical therapy. It is imperative that you complete your physical therapy as designated by your doctor to help ensure the best possible outcome from your cervical spine surgery.

Results of a Cervical Fusion

Cervical fusion surgery is successful in relieving arm and neck pain in a majority of patients, especially in the case of fractures, deformities or instabilities of the spine. If you are just experiencing neck pain, a cervical fusion may not be the answer.