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Cervical Discectomy and Fusion

What is a Cervical Discectomy and Fusion?

A cervical discectomy is a minimally invasive neck surgery that can be used to remove a herniated, bulging, or degenerative disk. A small incision is made in the neck area, the damaged disk is removed, and the adjoining bones are fused together with a bone graft. Candidates for the procedure typically have severe arm pain or weakness that isn’t relieved by medication or physical therapy.

What You Can Expect at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences

The UTHealth Houston Neurosciences Spine Center brings together a multidisciplinary team of board-certified, fellowship-trained neurosurgeons, neurologists, researchers, and pain management specialists who work together to help provide relief for even the most complex problems. People who suffer from radiculopathy, spondylosis, spinal stenosis, herniated disk, degenerative disk disease, peripheral nerve disorders, spinal cord injury, or other trauma benefit from our collaborative expertise in managing spine disorders.

Our multidisciplinary teams of specialists share insights, leading to better treatment decisions and outcomes. We first investigate nonsurgical treatment options, including medical management, pain management, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and watchful waiting. When surgery is needed, our neurosurgeons routinely employ innovative minimally invasive techniques. Throughout the treatment process, we will work closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care. While you are with us, you will receive expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Anatomy of the neck and spine

The spine is divided into the following regions:

  • The cervical region (vertebrae C1-C7) encompasses the first seven vertebrae under the skull. Their main function is to support the weight of the head, which averages 10 pounds. The cervical vertebrae are more mobile than other areas, with the atlas and axis vertebra facilitating a wide range of motion in the neck. Openings in these vertebrae allow arteries to carry blood to the brain and permit the spinal cord to pass through. They are the thinnest and most delicate vertebrae.
  • The thoracic region (vertebrae T1-T12) is composed of 12 small bones in the upper chest. Thoracic vertebrae are the only ones that support the ribs. Muscle tension from poor posture, arthritis, and osteoporosis are common sources of pain in this region.
  • The lumbar region (vertebrae L1-L5) features vertebrae that are much larger to absorb the stress of lifting and carrying heavy objects. Injuries to the lumbar region can result in some loss of function in the hips, legs, and bladder control.
  • The sacral region (vertebrae S1-S5) includes a large bone at the bottom of the spine. The sacrum is triangular-shaped and consists of five fused bones that protect the pelvic organs.

Reasons for Cervical Discectomy and Fusion

Most neck pain does not require surgery and most herniated disks heal after a few months of nonsurgical treatment. Only about 10% of people with herniated disks experience enough pain after six weeks to consider surgery. Cervical spondylosis, cervical stenosis, or other degenerative diseases, however, can result in cervical compression that causes significant pain, weakness, numbness, and difficulty walking. A loss of mobility might prompt your medical team to consider a cervical discectomy and fusion.

What to expect during surgery and recovery

The surgeon makes a small incision at the front of the neck, removes the entire disk or a portion of it to relieve pressure on the nerve root or spinal cord. After the damaged disk is removed, the surgeon will place a bone graft in the remaining open space, where it will fuse to the adjacent vertebrae it over a period of weeks or months. The surgeon may use a synthetic implant or actual bone for the fusion.

Patients are encouraged to begin walking in the hospital, and are usually discharged within one day, with instructions to increase the time they spend walking every day. It is normal for patients to experience pain in the neck, upper back, shoulders, and even hips after surgery. Patients might also experience hoarseness or difficulty swallowing immediately after the procedure. Most patients recover within four to six weeks. Patients might experience some hoarseness or difficulty swallowing for a few days after surgery.

Your spine surgeon will give you specific information related to your particular condition and lifestyle goals, as well as a detailed description of the surgery and instructions on how to make the best recovery. Recovery may take four to six weeks. It may take three to six months for the bone graft to form one solid piece of bone with the adjacent vertebrae.

Spine Disease and Back Pain

Contact Us

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8100, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.