Cervical spine surgery
Where is the cervical spine located and what does it do?
Seven bones (vertebrae) make up the cervical spine. It is joined to the skull and the thoracic spine, which is joined to the ribs and is located behind the chest.
The top two vertebrae control the sideways movement of the skull and the rest of the cervical spine allows the head and neck to tilt. Inside the cervical spine is the spinal cord, which carries vital nerve impulses allowing messages to be sent from the brain to everything from ligaments to muscles and skin.
The vertebrae do not sit directly on top of each other, instead there is a layer of tough material made up of cartilage (a disc) which sits between every two segments of vertebrae. This cushions the vertebrae and protects them against the impact of movement.
What can go wrong with the cervical spine?
Injury or degeneration can cause a segment of the disc to push back into the spinal canal, compressing a nerve and resulting in inflammation which leads to a herniated disc. Another common problem is that deposits called spurs can build up on the vertebrae, pinching the nerves. These conditions often result in acute pain in the neck and arm.
How are symptoms addressed?
Surgery is often the most effective way of treating a problem with the cervical spine. The simplest issue to treat is a herniated disc which has broken down on one side leading to pain on that side of the body. There are two methods – one which enters the back through the front of the neck, the other through the back. It is more common to operate through the front as this causes less trauma to the body.
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