Question:I've had terrible neck and arm pain for years. My doctor has been encouraging me to consider surgery. The operation is to remove the disc and bone and fuse the spine. After I heard all the things that can go wrong, I'm not so sure I can't live with the pain. Would I really be better off after such a surgery?
Answer:Pain relief and putting an end to other neurologic symptoms is the goal of this type of decompressive surgery. For some patients, without correction of the problem, symptoms can become permanent. Pressure on the spinal cord that's severe enough and that lasts long enough can even cause paralysis.
Surgery to take pressure off the spinal cord is helpful if it's done soon enough. Usually this means before irreversible damage has been done. Patients who have had these kinds of symptoms for less than a year have the best results. Advanced disease can negatively impact the outcome of surgery.
Surgeons are more careful these days when suggesting surgery if there are known risk factors that could cause poor results. They are obliged to go over any and all possible risk factors. Things like vocal cord paralysis (loss of speech), blood loss, or permanent difficulty swallowing can scare anybody off but are fairly uncommon.
Before going any further, make an appointment to discuss your concerns and questions with your surgeon. Once you understand exactly what your condition is, what is planned, and the expected outcome, you may be better able to make this important decision.Joshua E. Medow, MD, et al. Surgical Management of Cervical Myelopathy: Indications and Techniques for Surgical Corpectomy. In The Spine Journal. November/December 2006. Vol. 6. No. 6S. Pp. 223S-241S.
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