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If you’re considering surgery for neck pain, one of your concerns might be whether the process could actually make significantly better. Cervical spine surgery, or surgery around the neck, often has high success rates. No surgery, however, is free of some risk.
As with any surgery, one of the keys to success is to first ensure that you’re a good candidate for the process. If your surgeon is capable to correctly diagnose the problem, then your chances for success are favorable and the risk of persistent neck pain can be reduced.
Do neck pain symptoms greatly reduce my quality of life?
Neck pain alone can be bad, such as when sharp pain reduces the head’s range of motion and interferes with daily activities. However, surgery is typically not considered unless symptoms become even worse with cervical nerve root compression causing pain, numbness, and/or weakness to radiate into the arm and hand, or spinal cord compression causing problems with coordination, bladder or bowel function, or walking.
Does surgery for neck pain make sense for you?
The goals of cervical spine surgery are too accurate instability and relieve compression from a nerve that may be causing you pain, tingling, burning, or even weakness from the neck. Often, these symptoms can travel down the shoulder and into the hands.
Has the surgeon identified a correctable problem that is related to my symptoms?
If medical imaging, such as an MRI, identifies a spinal problem that is causing the compression of a nerve root or the spinal cord in a manner that matches your symptoms, you’re likely a candidate for surgery.
Weighing the benefits and risks of neck surgery
For chronic neck pain that cannot be linked to spinal instability or nerve compression, patients are generally advised to continue with nonsurgical treatments, such as physical therapy, medication as needed, massage, cognitive behavioral therapy, cold packs, heat therapy, and sometimes steroid injections.
If your orthopedic spine surgeon is capable to verify that your pain is caused by a spinal instability and/or compression of a nerve root or the spinal cord, the chances for successful surgery are dramatically improved. This is especially true if you have arm and hand symptoms in addition to neck pain.
Both ACDF and ADR surgeries are relatively safe and have high rates of success, but they also have risks just like any surgery. Running the potential risk of some enlarged neck pain after surgery may be worth it if you’re able to regain full use of an arm, but it would likely not be worth it if neck pain is your only complaint going into surgery.