Anterior Cervical Corpectomy

What is an anterior cervical corpectomy?

An anterior cervical corpectomy is a surgery performed to lessen the pressure put on the spinal canal.  Performed from the anterior or front of the body and under general anesthesia, the surgery is intended to relieve the pain caused by cervical stenosis or myelopathy.  When a patient suffers from cervical stenosis, the spinal cord is compressed or pinched by bone spurs on the spinal column.  Spinal stenosis often occurs in older adults. 

Patients who suffer from spinal stenosis or myelopathy have a myriad of symptoms including legs that feel heavy, the inability to walk quickly, the deterioration of fine motor skills, and arm pain.  The procedure reverses these symptoms by relieving pressure on the spinal cord and other nerves in the spinal column.

What happens during an anterior cervical corpectomy?

During the surgery, patients will be placed under general anesthesia and laid on their backs on the operating table.  The surgeon will cut a vertical incision in the neck of the patient and remove the vertebrae that are affected by bone spurs, the posterior longitudinal ligament, and the discs on either side of the infected vertebrae.  The removal of these bone and cartilage will decrease the pressure on the spinal cord. 

After the surgeon has removed the bone, a bone graft will be inserted, either from the patient’s hip or from a bone bank, to fuse the remaining vertebrae together.  This graft will provide stability in the spine.  The surgeon then inserts a metal plate with screws to stabilize the new bone while it fuses with the surrounding vertebrae.

The surgery usually takes 2 to 3 hours to complete. 

What happens after an anterior cervical corpectomy?

Patients will remain in the hospital for 4 to 5 days after the surgery to ensure that the incision is healing properly and that the neck and back are stabilized. During this recovery period in the hospital, patients will work with a physical or occupational therapist.  The therapist will teach the patient how to walk, get out of bed, and move their upper body without aggravating the surgery site.  Patients will also be fit for a neck brace.  This brace will ensure that the neck stays straight and will remove stress from the neck.  

Patients will not be able to bend or twist their necks or lift heavy objects for 4 to 6 weeks after the surgery.  Because they cannot turn their heads, patients will also not be able to drive during this period.  After 6 weeks, patients will have more freedom to move their necks because the bone graft will have begun to heal. 

What are the risks of an anterior cervical corpectomy?

As with all surgeries, infection is a risk.  Other risks specific to this type of surgery include nerve root damage or spinal cord damage if the spinal cord is disrupted during the surgery.  This damage could lead to further or greater pain or paralysis.  Because the surgery is performed from the front of the body, there is also a risk that the trachea and esophagus will be damaged. 

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