Cervical Fusion Surgery

The other day I was chatting with a woman who told me her husband, who played pro football for 10 years, was wondering if he should get another opinion before neck fusion surgery. It seems he has already had two laminectomies as treatment for spinal stenosis in his low back which seemed to be successful.

He had already discussed this with two neurosurgeons who recommended an anterior cervical fusion. His wife was concerned because he’s been getting “nerve flashes” daily and a bit light headed at times. He continues to work out and play golf without a problem.

Football players are no strangers to injury. High-velocity collisions can lead to cervical disk herniations, which in turn cause symptoms such as neck pain, radiating pain in the upper extremities, and coordination problems. Conditions that result in spinal instability require stabilization.

The benefits to be obtained must be weighed against the potential risks in any surgical procedure. NFL players treated surgically had a higher return-to-play rate and a longer career after surgery than those treated non-surgically. However, Defensive backs had a poorer prognosis than players in other positions.

Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) is a procedure used to treat neck problems such as cervical radiculopathy, disc herniations, fractures, and spinal instability. In this procedure, the surgeon enters the neck from the front (the anterior region) and removes a spinal disc (discectomy). The vertebrae above and below the disc are then held in place with bone graft and sometimes metal hardware. The goal is to help the bones to grow together into one solid bone. This is known as fusion.

This procedure should not be performed if the patient has diffuse multilevel neoplastic disease, severe osteoporosis or infection of soft tissues adjacent to spine. There may be other reasons why a particular patient is not good candidate for this procedure.

After the surgery, physical therapy would help to address the areas that were not surgically repaired. It is important to focus on strengthening and stretching areas to compensate for the fused components which don’t move.

At the Healing Center of Scottsdale, we offer a unique treatment programs that will address cervical neck pain and low back pain to prevent further re-occurring conditions.

Jeff Juraska, PT


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