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Cervical Foraminotomy

Last updated March 12, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Cervical Foraminotomy is a surgical procedure that is done to relieve compression on the root of the nerve by removing a part of the overlying vertebral bone and joint, to increase the space where the nerve exits the spinal column.

Background Information:

What are the other Names for the Procedure?

  • Cervical Posterior Foraminotomy

What is the Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure?

Cervical Foraminotomy is a surgical procedure that is done to relieve compression on the root of the nerve by removing a part of the overlying vertebral bone and joint, to increase the space where the nerve exits the spinal column.

What part of the Body does the Procedure involve?

A Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure involves the neck, the cervical (neck) vertebrae, and the intervertebral joint.

Why is the Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure Performed?

  • The spinal nerves exit the spinal column through an opening called the intervertebral foramen. This is an opening that is present between two consecutive vertebral bones, and two such openings are present on either side of the vertebrae, bordered by the intervertebral disc in the front and the intervertebral joint in the back
  • Any condition that reduces the size of the opening leads to nerve compression, thereby causing pain and functional symptoms in the region supplied by the corresponding nerve

The Cervical Foraminotomy procedure aims to widen the opening and thereby help relieve symptoms.

What are some Alternative Choices for the Procedure?

Alternative choices to Cervical Foraminotomy include:

  • Pain medication and physiotherapy
  • Injection of local anesthetics in the neural foramen to numb the compressed nerves
  • Other surgical procedures such as anterior cervical disc decompression and fusion, cervical laminectomy, and disc replacement

What are the Recent Advances in the Procedure?

The instrumentation used to perform the surgery has undergone further refinement.

What is the Cost of performing the Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure?

The cost of Cervical Foraminotomy procedure depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of your health insurance, annual deductibles, co-pay requirements, out-of-network and in-network of your healthcare providers and healthcare facilities.

In many cases, an estimate may be provided before the procedure. The final amount depends upon the findings during the surgery/procedure and post-operative care that is necessary.

When do you need a Second Opinion, prior to the Procedure?

  • It is normal for a patient to feel uncomfortable and confused by the information regarding an Cervical Foraminotomy procedure and on what needs to be done
  • If the patient needs further reassurance or a second opinion, a physician will almost always assist and also recommend another physician, if required
  • Also, if the procedure involves multiple surgeries or has many alternatives, the patient may take a second opinion to understand and choose the best one. They can also choose to approach another physician independently

What are some Helpful Resources?

http://www.methodistorthopedics.com/cervical-foraminotomy (accessed on 05/17/2015)

http://www.precisionneurosurgery.com.au/html/surgical_cervicalforaminotomy.htm#1 (accessed on 05/17/2015)

Prior to Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure:

How is the Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure Performed?

The Cervical Foraminotomy procedure is performed under general anesthesia.

  • The surgeon makes an incision on the back of the neck in the middle and the tissues in front of the spine are gently pushed to one side, to help the surgeon visualize the spine
  • The surgeon widens the neural foramen (opening on the side of the vertebra through which a nerve root exits) by removing portions of bone, disc fragments, and other soft tissue
  • The displaced tissues are set back in place and the skin incision is sutured

Where is the Procedure Performed?

A Cervical Foraminotomy procedure is performed in a hospital.

Who Performs the Procedure?

The procedure is performed by any of these medical personnel, with or without assistance from an anesthesiologist:

  • A neurosurgeon
  • An orthopedic surgeon
  • A spine surgeon

How long will the Procedure take?

The procedure may be completed in an hour or so.

What do you need to tell your Physician before the Procedure?

It is very important to provide the following information to your healthcare provider. This enables your healthcare provider in assessing the risks for the Cervical Foraminotomy procedure and helps avoid unnecessary complications.

  • Provide a complete list of medications you are currently taking to your physician. This information is useful for a variety of reasons. For example, it can help your healthcare provider prevent complications due to a drug interaction
  • If you are allergic to any specific medication or food items
  • If you are taking blood thinners such as aspirin, warfarin, herbal supplements, or any other such medications
  • If you or your family members have a history of bleeding disorders, or if there is a tendency to bleed more than normal
  • If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, chest pains, or have previously suffered from a heart attack
  • If you have ever been diagnosed with blood clots in your leg (deep vein thrombosis) or lung (embolism of lung)
  • If you have a history of frequent bone fractures (this may affect bone-healing if bones are involved as part of your procedure)
  • A list of all previous surgical procedures you have undergone, for example: Removal of appendix, gallbladder, or any other part, of your body; surgical repair of any body part, such as hernia repair, perforation of bowel wall, etc.

What Preparations are needed, prior to the Procedure?

  • The physician may evaluate the individual’s medical history to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the overall health status of the patient including information related to the medications that are currently being taken
  • Some medications increase a person’s chances of bleeding and it may be recommended to discontinue them for a period of time before the procedure is performed
  • Blood tests may be performed to determine if there is a bleeding tendency or any other medical conditions that prevents the person from undergoing the procedure
  • Inform the physician if you are allergic to any local anesthetics, lidocaine, etc.
  • Avoid application of any cosmetics, deodorant, or topical medicines on the area prior to the procedure
  • It is advisable to quit smoking and the use of any nicotine based products for a while before the surgery
  • Consumption of alcoholic drinks must also be avoided for a period of time, as instructed
  • The patient must avoid eating or drinking at least 8 hours prior to the surgical procedure, depending on when the procedure is arranged
  • For individuals suffering from diabetes, it is important that the blood sugar stays within the normal range; if not, their diabetologist may have to control blood sugar by recommending insulin and/or a combination of oral medicines

What is the Consent Process before the Procedure?

A physician will request your consent for Cervical Foraminotomy procedure using an Informed Consent Form.

Consent for the Procedure: A “consent” is your approval to undergo a procedure. A consent form is signed after the risks and benefits of the procedure, and alternative treatment options, are discussed. This process is called informed consent.

You must sign the forms only after you are totally satisfied by the answers to your questions. In case of minors and individuals unable to personally give their consent, the individual’s legal guardian or next of kin, shall give their consent for the procedure.

What Tests are needed, before the Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure?

Before a Cervical Foraminotomy procedure, the patient has to undergo certain tests such as:

  • MRI or CT scan of the neck
  • Routine blood and urine analysis
  • EKG
  • Chest X-ray

What are some Questions for your Physician?

Some of the basic questions that you might ask your physician are as follows:

  • What is a Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure?
  • Why is this procedure necessary? How will it help?
  • How soon should I get it done? Is it an emergency?
  • Who are the medical personnel involved in this procedure?
  • Where is the procedure performed?
  • What are the risks while performing the procedure?
  • What are the complications that might take place during recovery?
  • How long will it take to recover? When can I resume normal work?
  • How many such procedures have you (the physician) performed?
  • Are there any follow-up tests, periodic visits to the healthcare facility required after the procedure?
  • What are the costs involved?

During the Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure:

What kind of Anesthesia is given, during the Procedure?

General anesthesia by injection and inhalation is administered for this procedure.

How much Blood will you lose, during the Procedure?

The blood loss during an uncomplicated Cervical Foraminotomy procedure is not significant.

What are the possible Risks and Complications during the Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure?

There are general factors that increase the risk of getting complications during surgery and they include:

  • Obesity: Generally, the greater the degree of obesity, the greater the surgical risk
  • Smoking: The longer the smoking history (in pack years smoked), the greater the surgical risk
  • Advancing age
  • Poorly controlled diabetes, as evidenced by a high hemoglobin A1c and a high fasting glucose
  • Poorly functioning kidney, as evidenced by increased BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and blood creatinine
  • Poorly functioning liver, as evidenced by increased blood liver function tests
  • Hypertension (increased blood pressure), especially if it is poorly controlled
  • Poor nutritional status (malnutrition with mineral and vitamin deficiencies)
  • Poor lung function, as evidenced by abnormal lung function tests
  • History of bleeding disorders
  • Longstanding illness, such as autoimmune disorders and chronic infections
  • Poor immune system due to a variety of causes

The possible risks or complications that may arise during the Cervical Foraminotomy surgery are:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Infection within the surgical wound
  • Anesthetic complications
  • Accidental injury to the nerves leading to the loss of specific functions
  • Leakage of cerebrospinal fluid

What Post-Operative Care is needed at the Healthcare Facility after the Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure?

  • After the Cervical Foraminotomy procedure, the patients are sent to an area of the hospital called the postoperative recovery area (or PACU)
  • The patient’s blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration cycle shall be closely monitored. Any additional pain associated with the procedure will be treated
  • Individuals are usually discharged from the hospital after a stay of 2-3 days, if there are no complications

After the Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure:

What are the possible Risks and Complications after the Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure?

The possible risks and complications that may arise after a Cervical Foraminotomy procedure are:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Infection within the surgical wound
  • Persistence or progression of the symptoms
  • Recurrent nerve compression

What is the Prognosis after the Surgery?

The prognosis after a Cervical Foraminotomy and Fusion procedure is good. The surgery helps in pain relief in a vast majority of individuals, as well as improves symptoms of weakness.

When do you need to call your Physician?

Do contact your physician if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Worsening pain and swelling around the surgical wound
  • Bleeding or fluid drainage from the surgical wound
  • The occurrence of any symptom that causes uneasiness such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal swelling, or constipation
  • Signs of an infection
  • Headache, muscle aches
  • Fever, feeling sick
  • Dizziness
  • Complications associated with prescription medications used in treatment

What Post-Operative Care is needed at Home after the Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure?

At home, the following post-operative care is recommended after a Cervical Foraminotomy and Fusion procedure:

  • Slowly resume regular/daily activities as early as possible, which aids in a faster recovery
  • Use a heat pad or warm compress to relieve pain due to the incision
  • It may be necessary to wear a neck brace or collar during recovery and avoid forceful neck movements
  • Maintain good posture and avoid lifting of heavy weights. Avoid sitting for prolonged time periods
  • Avoid driving for at least two weeks after the procedure
  • Physical therapy and neck exercises should be done as advised
  • Resume showering a few days after surgery, and keep the wound clean and dry. Avoid taking baths until the surgical wound is completely healed. Gently wash the surgical wound with mild or unscented soap
  • Replace the dressings on the surgical wound after showering
  • Complete the course of prescribed medication under advice of the physician
  • Take antibiotic medication to help combat or prevent infection, per your physician’s advice
  • Avoid taking nonprescription medications such as aspirin. However, individuals may take acetaminophen to relieve pain (per the physician’s advice)

How long does it normally take to fully recover, from the Procedure?

Complete recovery from the procedure may take up to two months or longer.

Additional Information:

What happens to tissue (if any), taken out during the Procedure?

Any tissue that is removed is disposed as per standard medical procedures. However, in some cases, the surgeon may recommend a pathological examination of the tissue.

When should you expect results from the pathologist regarding tissue taken out, during the Procedure?

Usually, a pathologist does not get involved in the care of the patient. However, if a tissue is received for further lab analysis, then:

  • The tissue removed is processed in the laboratory under a pathologist's supervision
  • Slide(s) are prepared once the tissue is processed and is examined by a pathologist and a pathology report issued
  • Depending on the complexity of the case, issue of the report may take anywhere between 72 hours to a week's time

Who will you receive a Bill from, after the Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure?

It is important to note that the number of bills that the patient may receive depends on the arrangement the healthcare facility has with the physician and other healthcare providers.

Sometimes, the patient may get a single bill that includes the healthcare facility and the consultant physician charges. Sometimes, the patient might get multiple bills depending on the healthcare provider involved. For instance, the patient may get a bill from:

  • A hospital
  • An anesthesiologist (if anesthesia was administered)
  • An orthopedic surgeon, or a spine surgeon, or a neurosurgeon
  • A pathologist (if a tissue sample is sent for analysis)

The patient is advised to inquire and confirm the type of billing, before the Cervical Foraminotomy surgical procedure is performed.

Thanks and Gratitude:

We sincerely acknowledge and thank Dr. Douglas J. Jones for reviewing the article. His valuable input and feedback has helped enrich the contents of this article.

Douglas J. Jones, MD FACS
Board Certified General Surgeon and Faculty Member
University of Illinois, College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign
506 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana, IL 61801, USA

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: May 28, 2015
Last updated: March 12, 2018