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What Is Posterior Cervical Surgery?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated May 17, 2024
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Posterior cervical surgery is an operation performed on the top of the spinal cord, at the neck. With this type of procedure, surgeons approach the spinal cord from the back of the neck. Various surgeries may be based on this approach, including surgery to fuse two or more bones together, as well as a laminectomy, which is the removal of a portion of bone to allow the spinal cord more space. Some patients may undergo a posterior cervical foraminotomy, which removes a portion of a spinal disc to alleviate pain. Before undergoing any type of posterior cervical surgery, patients should discuss their specific operation with their surgeon.

Patients may have a posterior cervical surgery to treat a variety of medical conditions, including bone fractures, deformities, and tumors, which may be addressed with a spinal fusion. Cervical stenosis, which is a condition that leads to pinching of the spinal cord, may warrant a posterior cervical laminectomy. A foraminotomy may be used to correct cervical bone protrusions, which can compress the nerves and result in severe, radiating arm pain.

These types of surgeries are done under general anesthesia, so the patient is unconscious. The doctor will likely instruct the patient to avoid consuming solid food for a period of time. Certain medications, such as blood thinners, may also need to be discontinued. Patients should disclose their other medical conditions, medications, and supplements before undergoing a posterior cervical surgery.

All variations of posterior cervical surgery require an incision in the back of the neck, so the unconscious patient will be positioned on his stomach. After the surgeon makes the incision, he will remove a portion of the bone, called the lamina, if the surgery is a laminectomy. This allows the spinal cord more space, which alleviates compression and may help improve the patient's coordination.

If the patient is undergoing a fusion, the surgeon will attach small screws to two bones, and connect both screws with a titanium rod. A bone graft is then used to help the pieces fuse together over the next few months. Surgeons who are performing a posterior cervical foraminotomy will remove the portion of the spinal disc that is protruding and compressing the nearby nerves. This technique alleviates nerve pain, and it does not require the spinal bones to be fused together.

The length of recovery for a posterior cervical surgery will vary, depending on which procedure was used and the patient's general health. Patients should expect to stay in the hospital for a few days, followed by a period of rest at home. Before undergoing a posterior cervical surgery, they should be aware of the potential risks, such as infection and bleeding. Additional risks may vary, depending on the specific surgical procedure.

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