How Does Spinal Fusion Affect Neck Mobility?

Spinal fusion is one of the most recommended surgical procedures when neck pain symptoms are chronic and severe. This surgery involves reducing pressure on the affected spinal nerve or nerves and stabilizing at least part of the cervical spine by fusing vertebral bones together at one or more cervical levels. The procedure is almost always done in combination with a discectomy, which is why it is often referred to as an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion.

Spinal fusion has a good record of eliminating or reducing neck-related arm pain, tingling, and weakness. However, patients may worry about how much neck mobility they may lose when one or more mobile joints in the neck are fused solid and whether it will impact their quality of life.

Understanding Standard Neck Mobility

The cervical spine consists of seven stacked vertebral bones that travel down, connecting the base of the skull to the chest. Neck mobility refers to the cervical spine’s range of motion and varies somewhat from person to person. Neck mobility depends on several factors such as:

  • The shape and structure of vertebral bones and facet joints
  • The cushioning provided by discs between the vertebrae
  • The flexibility of surrounding muscle and ligaments

The cervical range of motion is generally measured in three planes:

  • Sagittal: forward/backward
  • Coronal: side to side
  • Transverse: rotation

Medical professionals have not agreed on the average range of the cervical motion, but the following measurements are estimates for reference.

  • Moving head forward: 60 degrees of flexion
  • Moving head backward: 75 degrees of extension
  • Bending ear towards the shoulder: 45 degrees of lateral flexion
  • Turning to the side: 80 degrees of rotation

The measurements above are an estimated point of reference for medical professionals to use when diagnosing spine and neck conditions.

How Spinal Fusion Surgery Affects Neck Mobility

Depending on how the measurements are done, between one-third to one-half of the neck’s forward/backward and rotational motions occur at the top two levels of the cervical spine. Most fusion surgeries in the cervical spine occur in one or more of the lower levels. Therefore, one or two-level fusion in the lower cervical spine has a minor impact on the neck’s overall range of motion because the mobile joints in the neck are not the ones that were fused.

Furthermore, most routine activities throughout the day only involve a fraction of the neck’s full range of motion. Even in rare circumstances where three or four levels of the lower cervical spine are fused, less than 25% of the neck’s mobility is lost, and it does not affect the person’s ability to perform most daily tasks. Adjustments might need to be made, but it does not impede a person’s ability to perform the activity.

Find Neck and Spinal Pain Relief at Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery

Back and neck pain can make daily tasks unbearable, impeding people from performing their daily and work duties. At Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery, we understand the debilitating pain that comes from spinal and neck conditions. Our spine surgeons have dedicated their careers to relieving patients’ back and neck pain. They are leaders in their field committed to providing patients with personalized treatment to ensure they can regain their quality of life. Call (855) 853-6542 or fill out our contact form to schedule an appointment with our spinal experts today.