It’s rarely the first choice, but for some people, fusion is the best treatment for stabilizing the cervical spine. Your benefits include pain relief and improved quality of life. But there are some factors to consider during the healing process.
At Yale Neurosurgery New London, our neurosurgeon, Dr. Patrick Doherty, takes a minimally invasive approach to spine surgery whenever possible. This offers quicker healing with less trauma to the surrounding soft tissue. However, healing from cervical spine fusion includes time for your bones to fuse.
What is cervical spinal fusion surgery?
Cervical spinal fusion surgery involves joining two or more vertebrae in the cervical spine (neck). Dr. Doherty recommends fusion when conservative therapies fail to stabilize the neck, alleviate your pain, or improve the function of your cervical spine.
During your procedure, Dr. Doherty may use bone grafts, metal plates, screws, or other medical devices to fuse or "weld" together the affected vertebrae. This creates a solid bone bridge between the vertebrae, preventing movement and reducing pain caused by instability or compression of nerves in the neck.
Why would I need cervical spine fusion?
Dr. Doherty may recommend cervical spine fusion for various conditions that are not amenable to conservative treatments.
These conditions may include:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Herniated discs
- Spinal stenosis
- Vertebral fractures
- Spinal tumors or infection
- Instability due to trauma or previous surgery
Dr. Doherty often performs cervical spinal fusion with a minimally invasive approach, sometimes assisted with robotic technology, to reduce incision size, soft tissue trauma, postsurgical bleeding risk, and other potential complications related to traditional open surgery.
However, full recovery depends on how fast your spinal bones fuse. Most people require one to two days in the hospital and up to six months of recovery and rehabilitation following cervical spine fusion.
What can I expect after a cervical spine fusion procedure?
Everyone heals at a different rate, and your recovery after the procedure depends on the extent of the surgery, your overall health, and your adherence to postoperative instructions. Dr. Doherty discusses expectations before scheduling your procedure.
Generally, however, here’s what to expect after cervical spinal fusion:
After cervical spine fusion surgery, most patients typically stay in the hospital for one to two days for monitoring and pain management.
Initial recovery at home
Once discharged from the hospital, you will need to rest at home and follow specific aftercare instructions provided by Dr. Doherty. Your initial recovery may include avoiding certain activities, wearing a neck brace or collar, and taking pain medications as prescribed. The initial recovery period at home usually lasts for two to four weeks.
Gradual return to normal activities
After the initial recovery period, you can expect to gradually resume normal activities, such as light household chores and walking. However, depending on Dr. Doherty's recommendations, heavy lifting, strenuous exercise, and other high-impact activities may be restricted for several weeks to several months.
Dr. Doherty prescribes physical therapy or rehabilitation to help restore strength, flexibility, and mobility to your neck and upper body. Your rehab may last several weeks to several months.
It can take up to six months for bones in your cervical spine to fuse fully. However, recovery varies significantly from person to person, and you may require a longer or shorter recovery period. Dr. Doherty periodically sees you for follow-up visits to ensure healing is progressing as expected, and he offers new guidance as needed.
Schedule a visit with Dr. Doherty at our office in New London, Connecticut, for more information about spinal fusion surgery or other services we offer.