Cervical Spine Surgery

By Sally Ann Quirke, Chartered Physiotherapist | Filed under: Back Surgery


Cervical Spine Surgery
Physiotherapy intervention should be considered first

While Cervical spine surgery is unfortunately required in come cases, it should not be undertaken for neck or upper back pain relief without exploring other options first, and even then only as an absolute necessity.

Cervical spine surgery is increasingly common, and while there are many reasons for this type of surgery and the main reasons that why patients I see in my practice elect to undergo the surgery is to relieve themselves from severe neck pain. However, I have seen some people embark on premature surgery, when some patience and good physiotherapy treatments could have avoided it.

The neck pain is usually so bad that the person cannot function anymore as a result of the severe pain, numbness and pins and needles. If you suffer from neck pain for longer than a week seek a physiotherapy assessment. This will either help relieve your pain - or if the therapist finds any signs or symptoms indicating surgical intervention - they can refer you to the correct doctor for further investigation, including x-rays and MRI investigation. Early intervention is the key in the successful management of neck pain. If upon assessment it turns out that you do require surgery, the earlier you have it the better.

My advice on this surgery is as follows. Before you embark on spinal surgery you should have :

  • Exhaust physiotherapy and other manual treatments to relieve your neck pain
  • Consulted your doctor / surgeon / physician first if you have become unable to function in your every day life.
  • Consulted your doctor / surgeon / physician first if you have progressing severe neurological signs and symptoms.

At all times seek professional advice for the neck pain symptoms you are experiencing, as some signs and symptoms may require urgent attention either surgically or conservatively.

The most common cervical spine surgeries that I see are disc surgery and spinal fusion surgery.

The extent of disc surgery performed is relative to the amount of damage to the affected disc and the surrounding nerves. Some disc surgery involves the removal of a small amount of the disc, while other situations require the complete removal of the affected disc. A disc needs to be removed surgically if it is protruding to such an extent that it is causing neurological symptoms that manual therapy cannot resolve. Early intervention, when indicated, is essential to avoid any long term weakness in your arm. Seek medical advice for neurological symptoms always.

When the disc is severely damaged, and has to be removed completely, you may require a spinal fusion. This is where one vertebra is fused to another to stabilise the movement of these two neck vertebrae, as removal of the disc often results in bony instability between the two adjoining bones.

Spinal fusions can also result from whiplash injuries and degenerative conditions such as osteoporosis. Neurological signs and symptoms are usually present. If you require spinal surgery you should see a chartered physiotherapist before surgery when possible. This allows your physiotherapist to rehabilitate your neck or back more effectively. By seeing your pre-operative condition the follow-up treatment post-operatively is clearer for your therapist.

If you are unable to attend a chartered physio prior to your operation have no fear, seek early intervention post-operatively under the guidance of your surgeon.


While the content and materials contained in the articles on this website have been written & researched by Sally Ann Quirke, a professional, practising & fully qualified Chartered Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist) based in Ireland, they are provided for general information and educational purposes only. They do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.

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