WellSpan Home

Cervical Spinal Fusion

Surgery Overview

Cervical spinal fusion (arthrodesis) is a surgery that joins selected bones in the neck (cervical spine). There are different methods of doing a cervical spinal fusion:

  • Bone can be taken from elsewhere in your body or obtained from a bone bank (a bone graft). The bone is used to make a bridge between vertebrae that are next to each other (adjacent). This bone graft stimulates the growth of new bone. Man-made (artificial) fusion materials may also be used.
  • Metal implants can be used to hold the vertebrae together until new bone grows between them.
  • Metal plates can be screwed into the bone, joining adjacent vertebrae.
  • An entire vertebra can be removed, and the spine then fused.
  • A spinal disc can be removed and the adjacent vertebrae fused.

This procedure can be done through an incision on the front (anterior) or back (posterior) of the neck.

What To Expect

This surgery usually requires a short stay in the hospital. You may need to wear a brace on your neck (cervical collar) during recovery.

Why It Is Done

Cervical spinal fusion may be done:

  • After an injury, to stabilize the neck and prevent a bone fracture from causing instability or damage to the spinal cord, which may result in paralysis.
  • To treat conditions such as misalignment of the vertebrae.
  • As a follow-up procedure to treat spinal stenosis, a herniated disc, the effects of rheumatoid arthritis, an infection, tumors, or spinal deformities.

How Well It Works

Often spinal fusion is needed to keep the spine stable after injury, infection, or a tumor.

When symptoms such as numbness or weakness in the arm suggest that a neck problem is causing a pinched nerve (radiculopathy), surgery may help you feel better faster. But it's not clear that surgery is any better than nonsurgical treatment in the long run. And research also suggests that a complex surgery that includes fusion is not better than a simpler surgery to take the pressure off the nerve.footnote 1

If you have neck pain alone, with no signs of a pinched nerve, neck surgery will not help.footnote 1

Risks

Although cervical spinal fusion stiffens part of the neck, this does not reduce neck flexibility for most people.

Surgery and the use of anesthesia involve some risk. The risks associated with this procedure vary depending on your age and overall health, diagnosis, and type of procedure used. Risks include:

  • Pain in a bone graft site (donor site).
  • Failure of the fusion, breakage of metal implants (if used), or both.
  • Blood clots in deep veins.
  • Nerve or spinal cord injury.
  • Graft rejection.
  • Infection.
  • Excessive bleeding.
  • Risks of general anesthesia.

What To Think About

Because there are so many things to consider when spinal fusion is recommended, seek a second opinion before making a decision.

References

Citations

  1. Carragee EJ, et al. (2008). Treatment of neck pain. Injections and surgical interventions: Results of the Bone and Joint Decade 2000–2010 Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders. Spine, 33(4S): S153–S169.

Credits

Current as ofSeptember 20, 2018

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics


Are you sure you would like to cancel?

All information will be lost.

Yes No ×

About the provider search

This search will provide you with WellSpan Medical Group and Northern Lancaster County (Ephrata) Medical Group primary care physicians and specialists. If we don’t have a WellSpan Medical Group physician to meet your criteria, the search will expand to include community physicians who partner with WellSpan Medical Group physicians through the WellSpan Provider Network or provide care to patients on the Medical Staffs of WellSpan’s Hospitals.

×

Schedule Your Next Appointment Online with MyWellSpan

Use your MyWellSpan patient portal any time to view available appointments, and pick the date and time that best suits your schedule.

Go to MyWellSpan

New to this practice?

If you don't have a WellSpan primary care provider and would like to schedule a new patient appointment with a provider who is accepting patients, just log into your MyWellSpan account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to see the offices that are accepting new patients in relation to your zip code. If you are not enrolled in MyWellSpan, go to https://my.wellspan.org, call 1-866-638-1842 or speak with a member of the staff at a participating facility to sign up. New patient scheduling not available at all practices/programs.

Already a patient at this practice?

If you already have a relationship with a WellSpan practice, simply log into your account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider or practice that already counts you as a patient. Online scheduling varies by practice/program.

×