The cervical spine has seven bones called vertebrae, with discs in between each bone known as intervertebral discs. When the outer part of a disc ruptures, the gel-like inside leaks, or herniates, into the spinal area. This fluid can press on the spinal cord and nerves, which causes pain and or numbness. When a person undergoes multi-level cervical fusion surgery, a doctor removes the parts of the spinal area affected by the herniated disc.
The empty space left after the disc, and any other necessary portion of the spine that has been removed, must be filled in order for the patient to have normal function of the body. A bone graft is used to replace the disc. This bone graft can be from the patient, a donor or made from synthetic material. Once the graft is in place, the surgeon attaches metal rods, screws and plates to maintain the placement of the bone graft and facilitate bone regrowth.
Recovery time for this procedure is generally four to six weeks, with a follow-up visit approximately two weeks after surgery. Most patients are able to return home on the same day as the surgery, but early release depends on individual reactions to surgery. Patients with difficulty breathing, excessive bleeding or any heart problems may need to stay at the hospital overnight for observation.
The health of a person before the surgery can reduce or extend the recovery period. Smokers may experience a longer recovery time due to nicotine’s inhibition of bone growth. Most people can expect to wear a neck brace during the recovery time to stabilize the neck. Other problems experienced during the recovery time include difficulty swallowing and hoarseness while speaking. In addition, the bone graft may move, the metal plates used in the procedure may fracture a vertebrate or the patient may experience nerve damage pain. If these problems don’t disappear during the recovery time, a second surgery may be necessary.