Some types of neck surgery include cervical discectomy, cervical fusion, cervical disc replacement, and laminectomy. These procedures address a variety of conditions affecting the top part of the spine.

The neck, or cervical spine, consists of vertebrae that extend from the skull to the upper torso, with cervical disks absorbing shock between the bones.

Common types of neck surgery include fusion or reshaping of the vertebrae, and disc removal or replacement. Each procedure aims to alleviate pain, restore function, and improve quality of life.

This article looks at the types of neck surgery a doctor may recommend, who is a good candidate, and signs a person may require neck surgery.

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Neck surgery includes several procedures aimed at treating cervical spine issues. These surgeries range from removing damaged discs to stabilizing the spine, each with specific goals such as relieving pain, correcting shape or structure, or restoring function. They include:

  • Cervical discectomy: This involves removing a herniated or degenerated disc in the neck that is causing pain or pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
  • Cervical fusion: This is where a surgeon fuses two or more vertebrae, stabilizing the spine. They can perform this procedure in conjunction with a discectomy.
  • Cervical disc replacement: In this surgery, a surgeon replaces a damaged disc with an artificial disc to maintain neck mobility.
  • Laminectomy: A laminectomy involves the removal of a portion of the vertebra known as the lamina to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.
  • Foraminotomy: This involves enlarging the vertebral foramen to relieve pressure on a nerve.

Cervical discectomy and fusion are among the most common spinal surgeries in the United States. A 2018 study reports that between 2006 and 2013, surgeons performed 1,059,403 anterior cervical discectomy and fusion procedures.

Doctors typically only recommend surgery for neck problems when conservative treatments such as medication, physical therapy, and injections do not relieve symptoms.

Some signs that a person may require surgery include:

  • persistent neck pain and stiffness
  • arm pain, weakness, or numbness
  • difficulty with grip or walking
  • loss of coordination
  • symptoms that significantly affect daily life

A person may need neck surgery for various conditions, including:

Determining who is a suitable candidate for neck surgery involves:

  • a comprehensive evaluation of their health
  • the severity of their symptoms
  • their response to nonsurgical treatments

Doctors usually reserve surgery for cases where less invasive methods have not provided adequate relief, and the symptoms significantly affect the person’s quality of life.

The following criteria may indicate a person is eligible for neck surgery:

  • conservative therapy has not helped
  • presence of neurological symptoms involving the arms, legs, or both
  • difficulty with balance or walking
  • general good health with no signs of infection, osteoporosis, or arthritis

Individuals may not be ideal candidates if they have:

  • nonspecific neck pain with no clear cause
  • significant health conditions, such as unmanaged diabetes or heart disease
  • active infections, especially in the spinal area, or certain inflammatory conditions

While neck surgery can provide significant relief and improve quality of life for many individuals, all surgical procedures carry certain risks. These risks vary depending on the type of surgery, the individual’s health, and the complexity of the procedure.

Some risks of neck surgery include:

  • infection at the incision site or within the spinal column
  • significant bleeding during or after the procedure
  • adverse reactions to anesthesia
  • nerve damage, potentially leading to numbness, weakness, or paralysis
  • difficulty swallowing or changes in voice
  • nonunion or failed fusion, where vertebrae do not fuse properly
  • hardware failure, including movement or breakage of plates, screws, or artificial discs
  • persistent pain despite the surgery

Recovery from neck surgery varies depending on the type of procedure, ranging from a few weeks to several months.

Generally, people may return to light activities within a few weeks, but they will need approval from their doctor. It may take several months for a person to fully recover and resume all their usual activities.

The medical team will be able to provide a more specific and detailed plan for recovery. This may involve physical therapy or medications.

Neck surgery encompasses a variety of procedures, each tailored to address specific conditions affecting the cervical spine. They include cervical discectomy, cervical fusion, cervical disc replacement, laminectomy, and foraminotomy.

These surgeries aim to help relieve pain, correct structural problems, and restore function to the neck. However, the decision to undergo neck surgery depends on the potential risks versus the benefits. All surgeries have risks, so doctors may recommend this option when other treatments have not worked.

Recovery times vary by the type of surgery and the individual’s health, but most require a period of rehabilitation to allow the body to heal.