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Issues With Cervical Fusion Years After Surgery

By Last updated on June 16th, 2022June 16th, 2022No Comments

Treatment for neck pain can come in many forms because there are so many that arise in the area. Ensuring a proper diagnosis is a good step to take, but sometimes conventional methods fail to provide relief. Persistent neck pain might be addressed with major cervical fusion surgery.

Despite the risks involved, many patients see positive results after a lengthy recovery period. However, not every patient needs to resort to surgical intervention.

Alternative treatments may offer hope for those who don’t wish to undergo surgery.

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What Happens During Neck Fusion?

Neck pain is a common occurrence. The neck, also referred to as the cervical spine, contains seven vertebrae. Each of these vertebrae has discs between them that absorb shock and stabilize the spine. Outside of the spine are many muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage that provide a range of motion and support.

The many intricate networks surrounding the spine can go wrong in a myriad of ways. Some injuries/problems that may result in neck fusion include:

  • Herniated Disc
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis (complications from)
  • Bone Spurs
  • Bone Fracture
  • Sudden Traumatic Injury
  • Degenerative Disc Disease

There are many solutions for neck pain, so it can be difficult to decide which treatment option is right for each patient. Many cases of neck pain go away on their own, especially small injuries that can heal without intervention.

When pain persists and begins to interfere with an individual’s ability to complete normal tasks, doctors look for the underlying cause of discomfort. Neck pain can be assessed using a physical evaluation, but most doctors will order a series of imaging techniques such as an MRI or X-Rays to determine the source.

Spinal abnormalities are tricky because it can be difficult to diagnose the cause of pain. Many patients have been observed with conditions such as bone spurs, which can cause a lot of damage and discomfort, but report no symptoms. Because of this, doctors have to be extra diligent about finding the source.

Issues in the neck that result in fusion surgery are often related to degenerative conditions such as arthritis and degenerative disc disease.

Neck fusion surgery also called Anterior Cervical Fusion and Discectomy (ACDF), is the process of fusing two vertebrae in an attempt to stabilize the spine or remove a disc. This procedure has many different methods, including discectomy, bone grafts, metal cages, among others. It is up to the surgeon and doctor to determine what will be best for each patient’s condition.

Risks of Neck Fusion

Any surgery will come with a set of risks and potential complications to look out for. Cervical fusion is generally considered safe, however, it is major surgery. Some common risks of surgery include:

  • Stroke
  • Infection
  • Blood Clots
  • Rejection of a graft or other structures
  • Complications with anesthesia
  • Damage to structures in the neck

There are some steps that patients can take to lower the chances of some complications. The topic of risks should be discussed thoroughly with a doctor and surgeon before the procedure so that patients can be prepared in case something does go wrong.

Aside from the risks of the surgery itself, other issues may arise after cervical fusion surgery. During the procedure and the healing process, the structure is particularly vulnerable. Vulnerability comes from a weakness of the muscles that have gone a period without use due to pain. Stiffness in the neck and a smaller range of motion are common occurrences after cervical fusion.

Something to consider about neck fusion surgery is that it may not produce the intended results. Some patients have reported little to no relief from symptoms after a lengthy recovery period. When this is the case, doctors may suggest yet another corrective surgery. The recovery period for cervical fusion can be up to 18 months, so it’s no surprise that many individuals are turning to alternative treatments for neck pain.

What Happens When Neck Pain Persists?

What Happens When Neck Pain Persists?

There are many reasons why patients may experience abnormal pain in the neck after surgery. There could be damage to nerves, muscles, or the spinal cord. Some bone grafts are not compatible (“fail”) in their new location. Persistent inflammation at the site of the fusion can impede the healing process. All of these and many more can go wrong while the body attempts to heal itself.

In an attempt to treat a patient’s condition, doctors will order more imaging technology and continue to observe the patient. The initial treatment process begins again, though some doctors jump to the corrective surgery option. It may be the case that an injury was missed during the initial diagnosis, which may lead to a completely different treatment plan.

Corrective surgery is often performed arthroscopically, using tiny cameras for guidance and tools for repair. An individual who is not interested in more surgery may consider alternative treatments for their pain.

Non-Operative Treatments to Avoid Neck Fusion Surgery

The emerging scientific field of regenerative medicine sometimes referred to as Orthobiologics, seeks to address injury without resorting to more invasive methods. Using a patient’s own regenerative cells and the body’s healing components, doctors can pinpoint the location of an injury and transplant a concentrated solution of these cells to boost the natural healing process.

There are two types of regenerative therapy offered at CELLAXYS, autologous stem cell therapy, and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy. Both platelets and stem cells are used in the body’s natural healing process to call to other cells and regenerate dead or damaged cells.

These therapies have shown promising results for many conditions including spine therapies. Regenerative therapies are capable of healing structures such as muscle, tendons, bone, and cartilage.

Patients faced with chronic pain may seek these treatments as an alternative to surgery, often with promising results. There may also be a benefit for patients who have already undergone surgery. By increasing the number of healing cells in an injury, especially post-operation, the body can begin to heal faster and better than it would without regenerative therapy.

Dr. Pouya Mohajer

Director of Regenerative Interventional Spine Medicine
Board certification in Anesthesiology and Interventional Pain Medicine
Fellowship-trained from Harvard University
UCLA Alumni


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