Cervical Spine Surgery

Cervical spine surgery is a procedure that may be recommended by your orthopaedic surgeon or neurosurgeon to relieve neck pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness. The goal of the surgery is to restore nerve function and prevent abnormal motion in your neck. This is done by removing a disc or bone and fusing the vertebrae together with a bone graft either in front of or behind the spine.

There are two types of bone grafts that may be used - an autograft (bone taken from your body) or an allograft (donor bone from a bone bank). Sometimes metal plates and screws are also used to further stabilize the spine, which is called instrumentation. Once the vertebrae have been surgically stabilized, abnormal motion is stopped and function is restored to the spinal nerves. Another option to spinal fusion is a cervical disc replacement using an artificial disc that enables neck motion and stabilizes the spine.

Various ailments of cervical spine are treated through anterior or posterior or both anterior plus posterior approaches. Anterior cervical surgery is done with a very small cosmetic incision using surgical microscope to remove and replace the diseased disc or vertebra at one or multiple levels. As no muscles are cut during the exposure, there is minimal blood loss, less pain after surgery, and faster recovery.

Posterior approach is used to deal with pathology like cranio-cervical instability, C1-C2 instability, and cervical spine instability due to trauma, infection, or rheumatoid arthritis. Patients can start walking the evening of surgery and can start their routine activity as early as 15 days after surgery.

What is Cervical Spine Surgery?

Cervical spine surgery is a medical procedure used to treat neck pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness by restoring nerve function and stopping or preventing abnormal motion in the neck. It may involve removing a disc or bone and fusing the vertebrae together using a bone graft from your own body or a donor bone. Metal plates and screws may also be used to stabilize the spine.

What Conditions are Treated with Cervical Spine Surgery?

Cervical spine surgery may be recommended for various neck problems such as degenerative disc disease, cervical deformity, craniovertebral junction abnormalities, prolapsed intervertebral disc, and cervical compressive myelopathy. These conditions may cause pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.

How Safe Is Cervical Spine Surgery?

Although cervical spine surgery has a high success rate, there are some reported complications. The most common complication is a tear in the protective covering of the spinal cord, which occurs in only 0.77% of cases. The second most common complication is temporary paralysis in one or both arms, which occurs in only 0.42% of cases.

Complications are rare, but they may be more likely depending on the type of surgery you have. For example, patients who have an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) may be at a higher risk of experiencing difficulty swallowing, nerve injury in the voice box, and swelling in the pharynx wall.

What are the Risks of Cervical Spine Surgery?

Cervical spine surgery, like any medical procedure, has risks that you should be aware of. Your doctor will discuss these risks with you before the surgery. Some of the risks associated with neck surgery include:

  • Bleeding or a collection of blood at the site of the surgery
  • Infection in the area of the surgery
  • Nerve or spinal cord damage
  • Leaking of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF)
  • C5 palsy, which causes temporary paralysis in the arms
  • Degeneration of areas surrounding the surgery site
  • Chronic pain or stiffness after the surgery
  • Incomplete spinal fusion
  • Loose or displaced screws or plates over time

It is also possible that the surgery may not alleviate your pain or other symptoms, and you may need additional neck surgeries in the future.

What Can You Do?

You can help increase the chances of a successful surgery by discussing your risks and benefits with your surgeon before the procedure. Each patient is unique, and careful planning before surgery is essential to success. It is important to evaluate the cause of the spinal disorder, as well as any other medical conditions you may have, such as smoking, diabetes, or mental disorders. You should discuss these conditions with your surgeon to better understand how they may affect the outcome of your surgery and your chances of experiencing complications after the procedure.

What Are The Common Types Of Neck Surgeries?

There are two common types of neck surgeries that you may undergo to treat spinal cord or nerve problems: cervical spinal fusion and anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF).

Cervical Spinal Fusion

Cervical spinal fusion is a surgical procedure where two vertebrae are fused together into a single piece of bone. This type of surgery is recommended when there's instability in the neck, or when movement in the affected area causes pain.

Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF)

ACDF is performed to treat spinal cord compression or a pinched nerve. The surgeon will make an incision at the front of your neck, and remove the disc causing pressure and any bone spurs around it. This procedure may help to alleviate the pressure on the nerve or spinal cord. Following the removal of the disc, spinal fusion is performed to stabilize the area.

What are the most common types of neck surgeries?

Cervical spinal fusion

Cervical spinal fusion joins two vertebrae to make one stable bone. It's used to treat unstable areas of the neck that cause pain when moved.

Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF)

This surgery treats a pinched nerve or spinal cord compression. The surgeon makes an incision in the front of your neck and removes the disk and bone spurs causing the compression. They then perform a spinal fusion for stability.


A laminectomy relieves pressure on your spinal cord or nerves. The surgeon makes an incision at the back of your neck and removes the lamina, disk, bone spurs, or ligaments that cause compression.


This surgery is an alternative to laminectomy. The surgeon creates a door-like hinge in the lamina to reduce compression. Metal implants keep the hinge in place.

Artificial disk replacement (ADR)

This surgery treats a pinched nerve in your neck. The surgeon makes an incision in the front of your neck and replaces the disk with an artificial implant. Unlike ACDF, ADR retains some flexibility and range of motion.

Recovery period

After neck surgery, you may need to stay in the hospital for a day or two. Recovery time depends on the type of surgery. Pain or discomfort is normal, and your doctor will prescribe medication to help. You can usually walk and eat the day after your surgery.

Neck surgery isn't the first treatment option for neck pain. It's only recommended when other treatments don't work. Discuss all your options with your doctor.