A cervical discectomy and fusion is a surgical procedure performed on the
cervical (neck) region of the spine to help relieve pressure on nerves,
and perhaps even the spinal cord itself. Over time, wear and tear, arthritis
or an injury can damage the structures of the cervical spine resulting
in pressure and irritation to nerves and nerve roots. This pressure can
cause severe pain, discomfort, and numbness not only to the neck, but
down the arms as well.
During the operation, a small incision is made, usually in the front of
the neck, and the surgeon removes the bony material or disc that is causing
the problem. In most cases, the surgeon then fuses or joins together the
affected vertebrae using bone graft or bone graft and a metal plate.
Who is a candidate?
Frequent pain and/or numbness in the neck or down the arms will usually
result in a visit to the doctor. A diseased or damaged disc in the neck
is a common cause of this pain or numbness, and can happen for a number
Over time, a disc can wear and “flatten,” resulting in the
vertebrae above and below the flattened disc to slide back and forth,
or even touch. This can pinch or irritate the nerves causing pain and numbness.
Another cause may be a sudden injury, resulting in a bulging out or herniating
disc, causing pressure on the nerves and nerve roots. Bony growths (spurs)
can also form, and further narrow the pathways through which the nerves
What are the alternatives?
If your symptoms are mild, you may not require any treatment at all. Other
conservative treatments such as physical therapy, medications and steroid
injections may relieve symptoms for a time; however they usually do not
permanently change the underlying cause of the problem.
Another viable alternative is artificial cervical disk implantation with
the Mobi-C Cervical Disc, now offered at the San Diego Spine & Joint Center.
How are neck problems evaluated?
Your doctor will use a number of approaches to evaluate and diagnose neck
problems such as a herniated disc. These include:
A Detailed History – Your role in providing a detailed history is very important. Your
doctor will need to know where and when it hurts, if there was a recent
injury or fall, and a description of the pain. Are there positions or
activities that make it feel worse? What makes it feel better? All of
these details can help your doctor pinpoint the problem.
A Physical Exam – Once your history is given, a thorough exam by a spine expert
is another important step in getting a good diagnosis.
Diagnostic Imaging – X-rays can show the structure and alignment of the vertebrae,
as well as the presence and size of bone spurs or other bony abnormalities.
CT or “computerized tomography” – This is a special kind of X-ray machine. Rather than a
single X-ray, a CT scanner sends out a number of beams at different angles.
These images are then read by a computer, producing detailed cross-sections
or “slices” that can show the shape and size of the spinal
canal and the surrounding structures.
How are back problems evaluated?
Magnetic Resonance Imaging – MRI uses a powerful magnet to send radio waves into the body.
The images produced are very helpful in visualizing the soft tissues such
as the spinal cord, as well as the discs and nerve roots.
Bone Scans – These are useful in revealing certain abnormalities such as infections,
fractures, tumors and arthritis. Because bone scans are unable to differentiate
between these problems, they are usually performed in conjunction with
other diagnostic tests.
How long is the hospital stay?
The time spent in the hospital after a cervical discectomy and fusion depends
on several factors including your overall health and the extent of your
particular surgery. Some people may be able to return home the same day,
while others may spend one to two days in the hospital. We utilized the
concept of healing design to create a peace seaside resort-like patient
unit to reduce stress and enhance healing.
How long will it take to recover?
Recovery time after cervical discectomy and fusion varies depending on
your particular situation, the number of levels involved, and your general health.
The key to a successful recovery is maintaining a positive attitude. You
will be able to take short walks while in the hospital, and need to gradually
increase the distance and frequency of your walks once at home. If a fusion
has been performed, it can take up to three months for the vertebrae to
completely join together.
Your doctor will give you specific instructions on activity levels, including
when you can resume driving and return to work.
To find a physician affiliated with the San Diego Spine & Joint Center
at Paradise Valley Hospital,
click here or call (844) PVH-CALL (844-784-2255) and a friendly representative will
Just give us a call. We'll be happy to answer any questions you may
have. And be sure to ask us about our upcoming seminars on back and neck
pain – we'd love to see you! For more information, call us 24/7
at (844) 784-2255, or you can
e-mail our spine and joint care coordinator.