Will Surgery Make Your Neck Pain Better or Worse?

If you’re considering surgery for neck pain, one of your concerns might be whether the procedure could actually make symptoms worse. Cervical spine surgery, or surgery around the neck, often has high success rates. No surgery, however, is free of some risk.

As with any surgery, one of the keys to success is to first ensure that you’re a good candidate for the procedure. If your surgeon is able to accurately diagnose the problem, then your chances for success are favorable and the risk of persistent neck pain can be reduced.

The goals of cervical spine surgery are to correct instability and relieve compression from a nerve that may be causing you pain, tingling, burning, or even weakness from the neck. Often these symptoms can travel down the shoulder and into the hands.

To answer the big question of whether neck surgery makes sense for you, it helps to think through the following two questions:

  • Do neck pain symptoms greatly reduce my quality of life? Neck pain alone can be bad, such as when sharp pain reduces the head’s range of motion and interferes with daily activities. However, surgery is typically not considered unless symptoms become even worse with cervical nerve root compression causing pain, numbness, and/ or weakness to radiate into the arm and hand, or spinal cord compression causing problems with coordination, bladder or bowel function, or walking.
  • Has the surgeon identified a correctible problem that is related to my symptoms?

If medical imaging, such as an MRI, identifies a spinal problem that is causing the compression of a nerve root or the spinal cord in a manner that matches your symptoms, you’re likely a candidate for surgery. For example, if symptoms appear to be caused by a herniated disc, bone spur, or other structure pushing against a nerve root or the spinal cord, then in most cases a surgery can be performed to remove whatever is causing the compression and allow space for the nerve and/ or cord to heal.

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