Home > Procedures > Spinal Surgery > Corpectomy

A corpectomy is a surgical procedure to decompress the spinal cord of an individual. This is done by completely or partially removing a damaged vertebral body.

A corpectomy is also referred to as vertebrectomy. During this procedure, the surgeon removes vertebral bodies and adjacent vertebral discs to reduce pressure on the spinal cord. This is usually done when the pressure on the spinal cord is further causing cervical myelopathy and spinal stenosis. Cervical corpectomy is considered the most common type of corpectomy surgery, that helps remove neck vertebrae.

Why or when is it usually performed?

Patients with a compressed spinal cord are usually advised to undergo corpectomy surgery. It is caused due to the damaged intervertebral discs and vertebrae. It is mostly done on patients suffering from the following conditions:

  • Osteophytes
  • Spinal stenosis along with multi-level cervical stenosis
  • Herniated disc
  • Sciatica
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Ossified posterior longitudinal ligament (OPLL)
  • Cervical tumours
  • Cervical spine fractures

The corpectomy procedure is also recommended in cases, where:

  • The patient is suffering from severe pain
  • The patient is not responding to conventional management procedures
  • The spinal cord is compressed severely causing patients to experience symptoms of cervical myelopathy:
    • Loss of bladder control
    • Difficulty in walking
    • Loss of bowel control
    • Impaired hand coordination
    • Progressive neurologic deficit leading to weakness and numbness in the legs and arms

How is the procedure performed?

The corpectomy procedure is performed under general anaesthesia. The surgeon makes an incision in the affront of the neck, in line with the area of the cervical spine being treated. Then to reach the cervical spine in the affected area, the muscles and soft tissues are carefully moved aside. 

The damaged parts of the cervical, the discs and associated vertebrae are removed. The spinal cord and the spinal nerves are carefully relieved of pressure by viewing under a microscope. This further helps in relieving the pressure exerted on the nerves and the spinal cord itself. 

Then the surgeon clears out the disc and prepares the end surface of the bone to fix a bone graft containing titanium cages. The correct size and position of the implants is achieved by performing this part of the surgery with x-ray guidance. The titanium cages are filed with bone graft to achieve bony fusion. To stabilise the neck and the implants, plates and screws are also inserted. After this, the surgeon carefully closes the incision with the help of absorbable sutures.

What are the risks associated with this procedure?

A corpectomy is a complex procedure. There are some possible complications and risk factors associated with it which mentioned below:

  • Damage to the nerve roots
  • Continuous chronic pain
  • Damage to the spinal cord
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Non fusion of bone graft , also called “pseudarthrosis”
  • Dislodgment of the bone graft
  • Damage to the esophagus or trachea

How to prepare for surgery?

Some of the following are to be taken care of before undergoing a corpectomy surgery:

  • The patient is advised to quit smoking or tobacco intake. This is because it hampers bone growth, increases the chances of infection, delays the healing process, and increases the chances of having a failed spinal fusion.
  • The patient is asked to stop the intake of anti-inflammatory and blood-thinning medications.
  • The patient is asked not to drink or eat at least 8 hours before the procedure.

Frequently asked questions

How long does a corpectomy take?

The corpectomy procedure altogether takes around 2 to 3 hours, depending upon the number of spinal vertebras affected.

How long does it take to recover from a corpectomy?

The complete recovery process ranges between 6 to 8 weeks.

How soon can you return to work after surgery?

Returning to desk based jobs is possible within weeks after surgery. However heavy physical jobs or jobs that require repetitive movements of the neck need to be avoided for 6-8 weeks.

How soon can you drive after surgery?

As a collar needs to be worn after surgery , it is best to avoid driving for 4-6 weeks after surgery.