What is the Difference Between Spinal and Cervical Fusion Surgery?

June 12, 2023

For many people dealing with neck and back pain, it can be quite debilitating and interfere greatly with day-to-day life. Scheduling an appointment to discuss your symptoms and concerns will allow you to learn more about the options that can put you on the path to healing. Your physician will take a medical history, diagnose the source of your pain, and help you find the right option for you. Orthofix is committed to helping you get the care that will allow you to live a healthy, pain-free lifestyle. To find a physician near you and schedule an appointment, please visit the following link: Locate a surgeon near you today

What is spinal fusion surgery?

Lower back pain and neck pain are some of the most common reasons people seek medical treatment. After an evaluation with a physician, common treatments may include anti-inflammatory medicines, heat or ice, and physical therapy, but if these methods do not help, surgery may be an option.

Spinal fusion surgery is a procedure where spinal bones are fused together with a bone graft. When healing is complete, two or more vertebral bones will be fused together like a single bone. After fusion surgery, the vertebral bones of the spine no longer move independently, causing less flexibility and mobility.

When you have a fusion, there will be implants in your back such as rods, screws, bone grafts, or disc implants/spacers. This treatment is permanent, and there will be a loss of motion of the segments which are fused. However, if you are not happy with the results, your doctor may consider extending the fusion or trying a spinal cord stimulator to aid in healing.

The underlying philosophy of a fusion is if there is no motion, there will be no pain. The purpose of the fusion is to eliminate all motion at a particular disc level.

What is cervical fusion surgery?

Neck pain is often caused by wear and tear, and that progresses as we age, leading to worsening arthritis-type pain. This occurs in the intervertebral discs and joints of the cervical spine or neck. The majority of patients with neck pain do not require surgery, but when other options do not alleviate the pain, a surgeon may recommend a cervical fusion procedure. This surgery helps remove the pressure from the nerves caused by bone spurs or bulging or herniated discs, as well as stop the abnormal and painful motion between two vertebrae.

There are two types of cervical fusion:

  • Anterior fusion is performed through the front of your neck. It involves the replacement of the intervertebral disc with a spacer secured with small screws, with or without a plate, to ensure proper alignment. During surgery, the surgeon will remove the affected disc between your vertebrae. A bone graft is then placed between the vertebrae where the disc originally was. Eventually, this graft will fuse to the surrounding vertebrae to prevent painful motion in this area of the neck.
  • Posterior fusion is performed through the back of your neck. It involves the use of small screws and rods to stabilize the spine and ensure proper alignment while the fusion occurs. Screws are inserted into the left and right sides of the vertebrae to be fused. A rod connects the screws to stabilize the spine on each side. Caps secure each screw to the rod.

Is there a difference between cervical fusion surgery and spinal fusion surgery?

Spinal fusion is a surgery to join two or more vertebrae into one single structure. The goal is to stop any movement between the two bones and stop back pain. Once fused, they will no longer move like they used to, which will keep you from stretching nearby nerves, ligaments, and muscles that may have caused discomfort.

Cervical fusion surgery joins two or more of the vertebrae in your neck, making the neck more stable. The goal of this surgery is to alleviate chronic pain, address nerve compression, and stabilize the spine.

Spinal fusion and cervical fusion surgeries are performed only after other treatments have been explored. Before a decision is made, a surgeon will discuss the options, benefits and risks with you.

Benefits and risks of both procedures

As with any surgery, there are risks associated with spinal fusion and cervical fusion surgeries. Before any procedure, your surgeon will discuss these risks with you and will take every measure to help avoid any potential complications.

Some of the potential risks and complications associated with these surgeries include: – Bleeding or blood clots

  • Infection
  • Pain
  • Anesthesia problems
  • Nerve injury
  • Pseudoarthrosis – meaning sometimes the fusion does not work
  • Bone graft complications

There are also many benefits to having spinal fusion surgery or cervical fusion surgery. Before deciding to undergo one of these procedures, your surgeon will discuss the benefits and the ways you will feel better after the surgery.

Some of the potential benefits associated with these surgeries include:

  • Pain relief
  • Stability
  • Return to physical activities
  • Treats a range of conditions
  • High rates of success

Prevention is key to prevent a recurrence. Following surgery, it is important to keep the following things in mind:

  • Use proper lifting techniques to reduce chances of injury
  • Maintain good posture during sitting, standing, moving, and sleeping
  • Have an appropriate exercise program
  • Use an ergonomic work area
  • Maintain a healthy weight and lean body mass
  • Do not smoke

Making a decision that is right for you

To determine if a spinal fusion or cervical fusion may be right for you, it is important to discuss all of your options with a physician.
As with any surgery, it is important to get as much information as possible beforehand in order to make an informed decision. Your surgeon will discuss your specific diagnosis, symptoms you are having, and what you are expecting the outcome to be following surgery. Orthofix is here to help you come to a decision regarding surgery and provide resources that will help answer any questions you may still have. Please use the following link to find a physician near you: Locate a surgeon near you today