If you have a neck issue that’s been holding you back from an active lifestyle, you and your doctor may determine that neck fusion surgery is the best course of action. This type of surgery is often highly effective, but it can come with a lot of questions. One of the most common and most important questions is how long does neck fusion surgery take. The neck is a sensitive part of the body, so it’s helpful to know the length of time it will be treated in the operating room.

What follows is an overview of neck fusion surgery. You will find information about its length, as well as some pre-op and post-op recommendations so you can feel comfortable about your procedure and get back to full strength as quickly as possible.

What Is Neck Fusion Surgery?

Neck fusion surgery is a procedure in which a piece of bone is inserted between two vertebrae to stabilize them. It’s typically used to treat a herniated or degenerated disc, which is often the cause of a patient’s neck or back pain. When a disc herniates or degenerates, it can put pressure on nearby spinal nerves and cause discomfort. To relieve the pressure, the surgeon will perform a discectomy, which involves removing the problematic disc tissue. This can reduce the spine’s stability, however, so the surgeon will also insert a piece of bone in place of the disc to keep the spine structurally sound.

Many neck fusion surgeries involve just one vertebral segment and therefore just one bone graft, but it can vary. If your surgeon has determined that there are several problematic discs, he or she may decide to insert several bone grafts in the same operation. By talking with your surgeon, you can get a clear idea of your particular condition and how he or she intends to treat it.

Factors That Affect Surgery Length

The length of your surgery can be anywhere from an hour to around eight hours, depending on a range of factors. Here are some of the most important factors that will help you answer the questions of, how long does neck fusion surgery take?

Number of Fusions

More severe conditions usually demand lengthier procedures. As previously mentioned, your surgeon may find that you have more than one spine segment that needs to be fused. Each additional discectomy and fusion adds more time to the overall length of the procedure. Knowing ahead of time how many spinal segments must be fused will help you better understand how long the operation will take.

Graft Type

The duration of your neck surgery also depends on where your surgeon retrieves the bone graft to be used for fusion. The graft usually comes from either a donor or your own body, which is known as an autograft. Autografts are usually harvested from your hip bone, so if you choose this option, the surgeon will need to take some more time during the operation to extract and prepare the bone.

Surgeon’s Preferences

Another important factor that influences how long your neck fusion surgery takes is your surgeon’s set of personal preferences. Your surgeon may prefer to work alone rather than with a team, which may increase the duration of the procedure. He or she may also generally operate more slowly or more quickly than most other surgeons. The best way to understand your surgeon’s method of operation — and to resolve any doubts you may have — is to speak with him or her directly.

Important Considerations

Although it may feel like the duration of your neck fusion surgery is out of your hands, there is actually a great deal you can do to raise your chances of a fast, efficient and successful procedure. Here are some active steps you can take to improve your outcome.

Pre-Op

Before the surgery, pay special attention to your surgeon’s pre-operation instructions. These may include medications you should avoid, as well as recommended eating and drinking habits. These instructions help ensure that you are in the best possible condition before the operation. If you smoke, your surgeon will probably also recommend that you quit as soon as possible. Quitting will benefit your health in countless ways, but the primary concern with smoking and fusion surgery is that the chemicals smoking puts into your body actually inhibit bone healing and threaten the success of your surgery.

Post-Op

The operation itself may last just a few hours, but the process of spinal fusion can take months. In fact, the outcome of a neck fusion surgery isn’t really certain until the bones completely finish fusing. For this reason, your surgeon will give you advice on when and how to return to activity.

You will want to protect your fusing bones so they can heal properly, and your overall health has a strong influence on this healing process. If you are in good physical condition, your body will be more capable of healing the operated area and fusing the bone. This means that practicing good health habits both before and after your operation will reduce its duration.

Final Thoughts

This has been a brief overview of neck fusion surgery and the factors that can influence its duration. You can use this guide to feel more comfortable about the procedure and to inform discussions with your surgeon.
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