Complications of Cervical Disk Surgery

Surgery to correct a herniated disc or other injury to the neck can bring great relief to many patients. Cervical disk surgery has a low risk of complications following the procedure, reports Dr. Richard Staehler on the Spine-Health website. However, before committing to this procedure, you should be aware of what those risks are, even if minimal, and discuss them with your doctor.

About Cervical Disk Surgery

Depending on the exact procedure the patient needs, the surgery involves cutting into the neck area, usually from the front. In some cases, a patient’s case may necessitate approaching the site from the back of the neck. This is considered a more difficult surgical technique, says Staehler. This is due to the large number of veins in the back of the neck. This types of incision also places the surgeon closer to the spinal cord.

Damage to Nearby Organs

During the surgery, damage to nearby organs can occur. This includes to the trachea, esophagus or nearby blood vessels. Some patients may have hoarseness for two to three months following the surgery as a result of minor damage to the voice box nerve. The spinal cord can also be damaged during the procedure.

Surgery Not Effective

There is always the chance that the surgery will not be effective. In surgeries involving the fusion of the disks, the fusion may not heal properly. In some cases, the pain from the condition leading up to the surgery resolves, but it is replaced with pain caused by the surgery. Such results may require follow-up surgery.


The risk of infection comes with any surgical procedure that involves creating an incision into the skin as bacteria can then invade the body. Following the surgery, watch for signs of infection at the incision site, such as pain, redness, pus or swelling. Fever and pain along the neck, spine or legs may also indicate a spinal infection, reports the Oregon Health and Science University. These symptoms may even occur weeks after the surgery. Contact your doctor immediately if you have any symptoms of infection.

Other Complications

Other complications following cervical disk surgery may appear away from the surgical site. This can include phlebitis, the inflammation of leg veins that causes pain, swelling and skin color changes, blood clots in the lungs, and problems with urination or the bladder, reports Dr. Todd Albert of the Jefferson Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Albert also states that paralysis and death are risks, but they are extremely rare.



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