What You Need to Know About Cervical Spine Disorders

Anatomy of an inflamed neck

Each year more than 200,000 cervical spine surgeries are performed in the United States to treat conditions ranging from cervical spinal deformities to degenerative disc disease. The cervical spine (vertebrae C1-C7) and the occipitocervical region (where the cervical spine meets the base of the skull) require precise treatment because injuries and conditions that affect that area can be life-threatening or severely debilitating.

Spine surgeon Dr. Darren Lebl answered questions on cervical spine disorders and how they are treated.

What are some common cervical spine disorders?

Age-related degeneration of the spine, which may have a genetic predisposition, can result in discs degeneration in the neck. This can result in impingement of the nerve roots or the cervical spinal cord, which can affect vital functions such as strength and sensation of the arms and legs and the ability to walk, breathe and function independently. Some patients are born with congenital anomalies in the cervical spine, which can substantially impair their daily lives. Traumatic conditions of the cervical spine may also occur in young active patients due to high-energy trauma or in elderly patients even from low-energy falls.

How do you treat those disorders?

There are a number of non-surgical treatments to try to improve patients’ mobility, function and pain. In some scenarios, surgery may be necessary, especially if the disorder compromises function of the nerve roots or spinal cord. Surgical options range from microsurgical techniques (e.g., decompression of nerve roots through a microscope) to complex reconstructive surgery of the neck.

How do I choose a cervical spine surgeon?

Cervical spine surgery training represents the intersection of orthopedic and neurological surgery. From an orthopedic perspective, the biomechanics of the cervical spine and health of the motion segments and mobility are studied. Cervical spine surgeons at HSS see patients with cervical disc herniation and cervical stenosis, and treat complex degenerative, traumatic and deformity-related conditions. In cases in which a tumor or other condition occurs within the dura (covering around the spinal cord), a spine surgeon with neurosurgical background would be better suited.

What mobility can a cervical spine disorder affect?

Cervical spine disorders can affect not only the mobility of the neck itself, but, if there is compromised function of the nerve roots, also can affect the ability to use the hands or arms. If there is compromise of the spinal cord itself, such injuries or disorders can affect the mobility of the entire body, as well the ability to use your bowel and bladder, to walk, and even the ability to breathe.

What does rehabilitation from a cervical spine procedure look like?

Where a focused problem is addressed with modern microsurgical techniques, patients can leave the hospital in one day and begin early range of motion activities soon after surgery with a physical therapist with the goal of quickly getting back to usual activities of daily living. In complex realignment and reconstructive procedures, recovery may involve a period of bracing that can last for weeks while the bone grafts heals.

Dr. Darren R. Lebl is an orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery who specializes in the microsurgical treatment of cervical spine conditions and complex cervical reconstructive procedures of the pediatric and adult patient. His practice utilizes a multidisciplinary approach to patient care focused on the improvement and treatment of underlying bone deficiencies, the use of biologic healing agents, and newer and less invasive techniques to surgically treat a number of spinal conditions.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.


  1. Good day Dr. Lebi, I am a 76 year old male who had cervical spinal fusion surgery about six years ago, this along with two lumbar fusion surgeries has now left me with chronic pain and I am loosing my ability to walk, I can only walk for a short distance with the aid of a walker Using your cristall ball, do you think seeing you or one of your other Doctors could possibly help me. I am told by Doctors here in Tucson that I am in a black hole, live with it. Thank you for reading this. Steve Grier

  2. I would like to know if the doctor accepts medicare with supplemental. Blue Cross Blue Shield

  3. I would like to know since I had a surgery on my left wrist on LCT in 2012, from a workman comp doctor, but was sent back to work a week after surgery and my occupation is a cashier where I do repetition usage of my left arm…since my surgery I have been diagnose with carpal tunnel, ulnar nerve in my left elbow and now cervical spine disorders…never had a problem with this before until after the surgery where they use a scope to do the surgery..I am not getting any straight answers and my medical expenses are getting higher and higher.. I live in New Jersey and I would like to have a straight answer from these doctors this is my life..I will be 52yrs old in October . Thank you

    1. Hi Barbara, thank you for reaching out. If the surgery was performed here, please contact us at socialmediacontact@hss.edu so we can further help you. If you are looking to come to HSS for an opinion on your current issues, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

  4. i,m 25 years old, and i’d been experiencing this neck pain for the past 2 years, when i looked up my MRI result, it says mild depression in c4-C5, for which the doctor advice me to do physiotherapy, thought i did what they said there is still a pain in my left arms and leg and sometimes its okay, what do you suggest me for the treatment.

    1. Hi Mestizo, thank you for reaching out. Dr. Han Jo Kim, Orthopedic Surgeon, says: “If these symptoms are not affecting your day to day activities, I would continue to seek non-operative measures for management.” It would be best for you to consult with your treating physician so that they can determine the best course of treatment. If you wish to receive care at HSS, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

  5. i am born in november 1949. i am 64 year old to-day; still working for livelihood; my work-tool has been PC from the year 1988 to the year 2011; more than 23 years in PC environment; from may 2011 working on my own Lap-top; of course putting it on table-top; developed cervical vertebrae degeneration in the area C-5 and C-6 causing severe pain in neck (occipitocervical region); when i don’t work with my laptop i don’t feel the pain; i am unable to differentiate the reasons; i seek the medical advice and procedures, treatment to my CSD; best of regards.

    1. Hi Manchili, thank you for reaching out. For more information on spine injuries, please visit http://www.hss.edu/condition-list_spine-surgery.asp. It is best for you to consult with your treating physician so they can better advise. If you wish to receive care at HSS, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 877-606-1555 for further assistance.

  6. I had c5-7 fused in nov 2011 by one of HSS surgeons. Immediate relief and felt great. Within months, I had different symptoms but still in the arms. I found out thru MRI that I C4-5 is herniated and compressing nerves and c7-T1 is also bad. Looks like C6-7 may not have healed all the way. Supposed to go and have another surgery. What should I expect this time around?

If you’d like to consider HSS for treatment, please contact our Patient Referral Service at 888-720-1982. For general questions and comments, reach us on Facebook or Twitter.