Spine

Issues With Cervical Fusion Years After Surgery

By Last updated on March 11th, 2020 No Comments

Treatment for neck pain can come in many forms, because there are so many things that could go wrong 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 a major cervical fusion surgery. Despite the risks involved, many patients see positive results after a lengthy recovery period. This procedure may no longer be necessary, though – alternative treatments may offer hope for those who don’t wish to undergo surgery.

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 have discs between them that absorb shock and stabilize the spine. Outside of the spine are many muscles, ligaments, tendons, and cartilage that provides a range of motion and support.

The many intricate networks surrounding the spine mean that there is a long list of things that can go wrong. Some injuries that may result in neck fusion include:

  • Herniated Disc
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • 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, having been caused by a small injury that is capable of healing by itself. 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 technology such as 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, so many doctors look for indications that this is occurring.

Neck fusion surgery, also called Anterior Cervical Fusion and Discectomy (ACDF), is the process of fusing two vertebrae together in an attempt to stabilize the spine or remove a disc. This procedure has many different methods, including discectomy, bone grafts, metal cages, and much more. 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, but it is a major surgery. Some common risks of surgery include:

  • Stroke
  • Infection
  • Blood Clots
  • Rejection of 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. Safe practices in the operating room and an attentive staff can also prevent complications.

Aside from the risks of surgery itself, there are other issues that may arise after a 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 of time 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

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 with its 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, with hopes that they can surpass the need for surgery.

Alternative Treatments to Avoid Neck Fusion Surgery

The emerging scientific field of regenerative medicine seeks to address injury without resorting to more invasive methods. Using a patient’s own regenerative cells, doctors are able to pinpoint the location of an injury and inject a concentrated solution of these cells to boost the natural healing process.

There are two types of regenerative therapy offered at CELLAXYS, 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 already shown promising results for many conditions. Spinal injuries can benefit significantly as well – regenerative therapies are capable of healing many of the structures that can become damaged along the way 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 amount of healing cells in an injury, especially post-operation, the body can begin to heal faster and better than it would without this boost.

Conclusion

Living with any form of chronic pain can put a significant damper on daily life and enjoyment of activities. Treating neck pain is often simple, but when an injury fails to heal itself and begins to cause significant pain, treatment becomes more intrusive. One of the last-resort options is cervical fusion surgery, which can come with a list of risks and potential complications, and may not provide the relief needed. When considering such a major surgery, it is important to review all of the available options – surgical intervention may not be necessary.

Dr. Pouya Mohajer

Dr. Pouya Mohajer

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