When you’re dealing with a problem in your spine, there are a lot of treatment options that can help you find relief. For some patients, that treatment is through what’s known as an anterior cervical corpectomy. Below, we take a closer look at this common procedure and explain why someone may pursue an anterior cervical corpectomy for their spinal condition.
The Basics of An Anterior Cervical Corpectomy
If you’re familiar with basic medical terms, you may already know more about the procedure than you think. “Anterior” means that the doctor will approach the spine from the front of a person’s body, and “cervical” means we’re dealing with the neck portion of your spine. Finally, “corpectomy” is the name of an operation that seeks to remove damaged vertebrae and intervertebral discs in the spine.
In other words, an anterior cervical corpectomy is a procedure that removes damaged vertebrae and intervertebral discs that are compressing a person’s spinal cord or spinal nerves, and the surgeon performs this procedure by creating a small opening in the front of the neck. A corpectomy is very similar to a more common procedure known as a discectomy, but a corpectomy tends to be reserved for patients with more complicated issues. For example, a discectomy can provide relief by removing a portion of the damaged disc, whereas in a corpectomy, the spinal discs, bone spurs and vertebrae need to be removed in order to provide relief.
Patients who have experienced extreme degeneration in their cervical spine or those with problematic bone spurs that can’t be addressed through other means may need to consider a corpectomy operation. Some patients whose spinal integrity has been affected through significant trauma or a cervical tumor may also need a reconstruction and stabilization through a corpectomy operation.
Like most surgical procedures, it’s very rare for a surgeon to jump straight to operative means unless there’s a life threatening issue, so many spinal specialists recommend non-operative treatment to eliminate pressure prior to pursuing a corpectomy. If a combination of pain medications, physical therapy and watchful waiting can provide relief, you may be able to avoid surgery. A corpectomy is typically recommended if:
- Pain and discomfort is severe.
- Symptoms have not responded well to conservative care.
- The spinal cord is being compressed.
Performing The Procedure
When performing an anterior cervical corpectomy, the surgeon will place the patient under general anesthesia. The patient will not be awake or feel pain during the procedure. Once the patient is sedated, the surgeon will make a small incision on the front of the neck before carefully moving muscles and tissues to view the spinal column. From there, the surgeon carefully removes the damaged vertebrae and the attached spinal discs both above and below the vertebrae.
Once the damaged structures have been removed, the surgeon will typically perform a fusion operation to stabilize the spinal column. They’ll insert an implant into the spinal column in order to strengthen and stabilize the cervical portion of your spine. Different types of implants may be used based on your individual needs and which portion of your cervical spine is being addressed. Once the site is stabilized, the incision is closed with sutures and the patient is sent to a recovery room.
Total recovery after an anterior cervical corpectomy is about 6-8 weeks, but you’ll have follow up appointments before then to ensure everything is healing as it should. Most patients have great results with this type of spinal procedure, and there are no long-term limitations once healing has taken place. For more information, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi’s office today.