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Spinal Fusion: Cervical

Fusing vertebrae in the cervical spine (the top 7 vertebrae of your spine) may help ease neck and arm pain. It may also help relieve progressive paralysis caused by compression of your nerve roots or spinal cord. Two or more vertebrae in your neck are fused. Cervical fusion may be done through an incision in the front or the back of the neck. The surgery generally takes from 1 to 4 hours.

Image of cervical vertebrae
Cervical vertebrae

The fusion procedure

These steps apply to fusion from the front of the neck:

  • A traction (head clamp or strap) may be applied to align your neck

  • The skin is cut and the muscles, blood vessels, trachea, and esophagus are pushed to one side to get to the vertebrae and disks.

  • An X-ray is done to verify that the right spinal level is being operated on.

  • The disk is removed from between the vertebrae to be fused.

  • Bone spurs are removed.

  • A bone graft or intervertebral cage filled with bone is placed into the now-empty space between the vertebrae. Screws, plates, or a plate with screws are often placed in to ensure additional stability. In time, the graft and the bone around it will grow into a solid unit.

  • To help keep your spine steady and promote fusion, extra support may be used

  • A drain can be left in the wound for a day or two.

  • The incision is closed with stitches or staples.

  • The traction is removed.

  • A cervical collar, rigid or soft, might be placed on your neck.

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The disk between the vertebrae is removed.

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Bone graft is placed into the now-empty space between the vertebrae.

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Over a few months, the bone graft and vertebrae fuse into a solid unit.

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