What is Corpectomy?

3d rendered anatomy illustration - painful backA spinal specialist may recommend that a patient undergo a corpectomy in some instances. A corpectomy is a surgical procedure on the spine. Corpectomy in its simplest sense means “remove the body.” In this case there is a removal of vertebrae. A spinal surgeon will remove bones or discs to relieve the pressure on a patient’s nerves and spinal cord. During the procedure, the surgeon will remove portions of the bony sections which comprise the spinal column as well as discs that may be adjacent to the section being removed. Once the NJ spinal surgeon removes the discs and bones, there will be an empty space which will need to be reconstructed. The bones will be replaced through a bone graft or bone substitutes. In some cases there is missing tissue that is causing bone to rub against bone. The tissue must be reconstructed in order to prevent further damage. There are two basic reasons that a spine specialist might suggest a corpectomy for a patient: to remove pressure that is being put on the spinal cord or to stop any abnormal movement or motion between the vertebrae.

How long will recovery take?

A corpectomy is a very serious surgical procedure. In order to stabilize the area following the procedure specifically if a cervical corpectomy is performed, it is likely the patient will wear a halo to stabilize the area. During this initial phase following the surgical procedure the doctor will most likely put the patient on very tight restrictions regarding activities. At this point there would not be any form of rehab as the site needs to heal properly and adequately before rehabilitative procedures can begin. However, while in recovery, depending on the physician’s instructions, there may be some exercises he can recommend to help reduce loss of strength in the arms and legs. The physician will be able to refer a physical therapist who can help develop an effective and safe exercise routine. After the fusion has healed the patient will be referred to a rehabilitation program that is more rigorous.

How long will the hospital stay be?

The patient will be put under general anesthesia while the surgery is performed. This ensures that the patient will feel no pain during the procedure. After the surgery, there will usually be some pain or discomfort and the patient will receive pain medication in order to keep it at a controllable level. In most cases, patients will stay in the hospital just a day or two after the surgical procedure.

How long until the patient feels relief?

After the surgery has been completed the patient should expect relief from their previous symptoms. This can vary between patients with some having almost immediate relief and others gradually improving over time. One note that is important is that smoking can hinder optimal bone healing after the surgery has been completed.

Are there any possible complications?

No matter what type of surgical procedure is being performed, there will always be some amount of risk.  For surgical procedures which involve the spinal cord, any complications could be very serious. If there are any complications there could be a substantial amount of pain and possible impairment. This might require additional surgical procedures. Some of the possible complications or risks include:

  • Damage to nerve roots
  • Spinal cord damage
  • Bleeding
  •  Infection
  • Graft dislodgment
  • Continued pain

The main concern for spinal surgeons is compromising the spinal cord which could lead to quadriplegia. Corpectomy surgeries are usually only considered when there are already significant spinal cord problems. Of course, this puts the spinal cord at a much greater risk for developing problems during surgery.

Who is the ideal candidate for a corpectomy?

In most cases a corpectomy is performed only as a last resort when other possible procedures have been ruled out or have failed. Usually the candidate has been suffering from serious issues concerning the compression in the vertebrae and has not responded favorably to the non-surgical treatments that have been given. A spinal specialist will consider all of the information on a patient including their medical history, diagnostics and scans to determine if the procedure would be beneficial for the patient.

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