The spinal cord is surrounded and protected by the spinal column which is made up of 24 bones called vertebrae. It also consists of the sacrum and the coccyx or tail bone. Between the vertebra there are discs which are designed to absorb shock so the spinal cord will not have to. The spine’s flexibility and ability to move and bend are due to the proper position of these discs. Nerves that reach all the other sections of the body branch out from the spinal cord by passing through the openings provided by the vertebrae.
The part of the spine which runs through the area of the neck is called the cervical spine. In this piece of the spine there are seven vertebrae as well as eight pairs of spinal nerves. There are two very common problems that most people who have trouble with the cervical spine experience: stenosis and herniation. When a spine surgeon in New Jersey schedules a cervical spine surgery, the type of procedure will largely depend on what is causing the spine’s problem.
The main goals of a spine surgeon who performs a cervical spine surgery are to relieve the patient’s pain, weakness, tingling, or numbness. He also desires to restore the full function of the nerve so that it can return to normal motion. In order to accomplish these goals the spine surgeon will remove a disc or bone and fuse the vertebrae together using a bone graft. It can be done on the front portion of the spine, or on the back portion. There are two types of bone grafts: autograft or allograft. An autograft is done by taking bone from the patient’s body to use for the bone graft; and an allograft is completed by using bone taken from a bone bank to make the graft. In some instances it is necessary to surgically stabilize the vertebrae by suing metal plates, wires or screws. When these are used it is referred to as “instrumentation.” Once the vertebrae are stabilized through surgical procedures, the abnormal motion which was causing the discomfort is stopped and function is restored.
There can be several different cervical spine problems that would indicate the need for surgery. Usually surgery is necessary in cases of degenerative disorders, instability or trauma. These are all conditions which can produce pressure on the spinal cord or nerves that run out from the spine. Degenerative disease affects the ability of the disc to provide cushion between the vertebrae due to shrinking. This lack of cushion wears on the disc and can be a primary cause leading to herniation. A cervical deformity can also cause the neck to become crooked and surgery can be used to straighten and stabilize this area of the spine.
The neck is also very vulnerable to being injured since it is so flexible. An injury can cause a fracture or dislocation. When there is a severe injury, the spinal cord can also become damaged. Sometimes patients who have sustained a fracture can also damage the spinal cord. Surgery is necessary to relieve the excess pressure on the spinal cord and help bring some stability to the spine.
As with any surgical procedure, there are always risks involved. Risks include bleeding or infection such as can occur with any type of surgery and there can be a reaction to any of the medications prescribed, or the anesthesia that is used. This can cause difficulty breathing. Since the procedure involves the spinal cord there is a chance the nerves or spinal cord could be injured in the process. This is very rare but it should be discussed with the spine surgeon before the procedure is scheduled.