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Neck News

Confronting Neck Pain to Know When Surgery Can Help

Neck problems that involve pressure on the spinal cord or spinal nerves may require surgery. Doctors usually know whether surgery is needed in these cases. But they haven't always been certain whether patients whose main problem is neck pain should go ahead with neck surgery. This type of pain, called mechanical neck pain, starts in the neck and may spread into the upper back or to the outside of the shoulder. Mechanical neck pain usually doesn't cause weakness or numbness in the arm or hand because the problem is not coming from pressure on a spinal nerve.

This study looked at 87 patients who had been dealing with mechanical neck pain for at least a year. All patients underwent a surgical procedure called anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. This surgery is done through the front of the neck. The surgeon takes out one or more problem discs and replaces it with a bone graft. Some doctors use screws or plates on the front of the spine to help hold and heal the graft.

In a survey four years later, 82 percent of these patients rated the outcome of surgery as good, very good, or excellent. Less pain was reported by 93 percent of the patients. They also rated improvements by 50 percent in their ability to do routine activities. The authors conclude that neck conditions that cause pain can be helped by this type of neck surgery.


Timothy A. Garvey, MD, et al. Outcome of Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion as Perceived by Patients Treated for Dominant Axial-Mechanical Cervical Spine Pain. In Spine. September 1, 2002. Vol. 27. No. 17. Pp. 1887-1895.

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