The operation is designed to take away excess disc, bone and or ligament that is pressing on the spinal cord or nerves in your neck.
The operation will be done through an incision on the front of your neck (approximately 3-5 cm depending on how many levels need to be done). The trachea and oesophagus (windpipe and gullet) are moved aside. The disc is removed and under the microscope the nerves and spinal cord are decompressed. The disc is usually replaced with a cage +/- bone graft. Occasionally a plate and screws may also be used.
Your neck may be more painful for 8-12 weeks after surgery. The operation is not designed to relieve any neck pain you may be experiencing prior to surgery.There is a 50- 80% chance of improving some of your symptoms with the operation. The operation usually prevents things from getting worse.
There is a less than 1% chance of leakage of spinal fluid after the operation. This may cause headaches or a leaking or bulging wound after surgery. The risk of wound infection is less that 2%. You will be given antibiotic with your anaesthetic to minimise this risk.
There is a risk of spinal cord and nerve damage from the operation. The risk of spinal cord damage is small (0.3 -1%). At worst it could lead to complete paralysis from the neck down including loss of bladder and bowel function. This is not common, but is a recognised risk of this type of surgery.
There is a small risk (2-3%) of slippage of the bones in the neck in the months and years after surgery. If this happens and causes more discomfort you may need further surgery. This can happen even without surgery, simply because of “wear and tear”. The risk of this happening is outweighed by the benefit to you from this type of surgery. It is also thought that operating at one level in the neck may increase the risk of adjacent discs undergoing premature wear and tear, so increasing the chance that you might get symptoms from this (15% of patients in the 20 years following operation).
You will be in hospital for 2 days after surgery. You are allowed to walk, sit and lie down. It is best to vary your activity and to keep on the move as much as possible. The physiotherapists will give you more detailed instructions re exercises prior to discharge. You are advised not to drive for at least three weeks after surgery. You have to be able to do an emergency stop and to move your neck in order to see clearly before you should drive.
Most people do not need to wear a collar after this type of surgery.