Treatment of the C6-C7 spinal motion segment includes both surgical and nonsurgical methods. Usually, nonsurgical methods are tried first. Surgery may be considered when nonsurgical treatments fail to relieve pain or in cases where severe spinal cord or C7 nerve damage progresses.
Nonsurgical Treatment for C6-C7
Common nonsurgical treatments of the C6-C7 motion segment include:
- Pain Management. Pain in C6-C7 may originate from bones, nerves, or muscles, sometimes persisting for months. A few methods to control this pain are:
- Medication. Both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications are used to treat pain stemming from C6-C7. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), opioids, tramadol, and/or corticosteroids are a few examples of pain-relieving medications that may be used.
- Injection. Spinal nerve pain from C7 may be treated with steroid injections in the epidural space, around the C7 nerve itself, or injections into the facet joint of the C6 and C7 vertebrae. Risks of these injection procedures include hematoma, bleeding, and nerve damage. Fluoroscopic (x-ray) guidance with radiopaque contrast dye is usually used for correct needle placement and helps to improve diagnostic accuracy and decrease procedural risks.
- Immobilization. Using a neck brace or collar after an acute injury, such as fracture, may help promote healing of tissues and prevent further injury.
- Physical therapy. Physical therapy can help strengthen neck muscles, improve posture, and increase range of motion after a C6-C7 motion segment injury. Physical therapy is usually performed under the guidance of a physical therapist and may include exercises, stretches, manual therapy, massage, and/or other treatments.
Surgical Treatment for C6-C7
Cervical spine surgery may be considered as a treatment of last resort in cases when a nerve root or spinal cord compression causes or worsens neurological deficits. A few examples include worsening numbness and/or weakness in the arm or problems with walking or coordination. Surgery may also be performed to improve stability of the neck after severe fracture or dislocation.
Common surgeries performed in the C6-C7 motion segment include:
- Surgery to remove all or part of a disc. Removal of a herniated or degenerated disc may help relieve pressure on compressed nerve roots, reducing radicular pain. Disc surgeries include:
- Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF)
- Cervical artificial disc replacement (ADR)
- Posterior cervical decompression
While some procedures involve removal of a portion of the disc, most cervical spine surgeries include removal of the entire disc and replacement with a bone graft (for fusion) or artificial disc. The adjacent vertebrae may be fused with plates and screws following the disc procedure.
- Surgery on the vertebrae. Removal of portions of overgrown bone (bone spurs) and/or removing part of a vertebra may help relieve pressure on compressed nerves. A few examples of surgeries on the vertebrae are:
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Depending on the severity or location of the injury, one or more procedures may be performed at the same time. In many cases, symptom relief is experienced within a few weeks after surgery.
The risks of serious complications such as excessive bleeding, paralysis, infection, and others must be understood before proceeding with surgery.