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What Are the Different Methods for Cervical Decompression?

By Jeri Sullivan
Updated May 17, 2024
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Cervical decompression is a procedure used to treat health problems with the neck, back and spinal cord. The different methods for cervical decompression include cervical decompression therapy, cervical discectomy, and cervical foraminotomy. The term decompression is used to describe the method by which the surgeon relieves pressure on the spine. Depending on the severity of the issue, multiple methods may be used.

The most common form of cervical decompression is therapy. This non-surgical solution is often initially performed in an attempt to relieve pressure without the need for surgery. Spinal stenosis, which is the narrowing of the spinal cavity, causes the nerves to become pinched and pain to radiate throughout the spinal column. Decompression therapy involves taking the pressure off the nerve endings through stretching exercises and spine alignment.

A patient lies face up on a decompression table and the neck is placed in a stabilizing brace. Once the head is secured, a technician will program the decompression machine with a set amount of force. The machine will then move the table so the neck and spine are stretched. The stretching process helps the spine straighten and reduces the pressure the vertebrae put on the nerves in the neck.

Another type of cervical decompression treatment is cervical foraminotomy. This procedure is performed by a spinal surgeon and requires the surgeon to make a small incision in the side of the neck and then dilate muscles to allow a small retractor to be inserted into the incision. Damaged or dislodged bits of bone and ligaments are removed which alleviates the pressure on the nerves. After the retractor is removed and the incision sutured closed, the muscles return to normal and the patient should experience less pain where the nerve endings radiate from the spine.

A cervical discectomy is also a surgical decompression treatment used to relieve neck pain caused by bone spurs or a herniated spinal disc. The most common type of cervical discectomy is the anterior cervical discectomy with fusion which requires the surgeon to make an incision in the front of the neck. The surgeon then removes the parts of the vertebrae where the bone spurs touch nerve roots. If there is a large number of bone spurs, the surgeon may also need to insert a “replacement” vertebrae grafted from another bone in the body such as the hip. The grafted vertebrae help fuse the vertebrae on either side and strengthen the neck.

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