A vertebral corpectomy is a surgical procedure performed to remove a vertebral body (vertebra) and the discs surrounding it in order to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and adjacent spinal nerves. Such pressure is most frequently the result of spinal stenosis or bone spurs. Patients with spinal compression experience pain, numbness, tingling or weakness in the affected portion of the back. These symptoms may also be radicular, extending down into the extremities. Depending on the location and severity of the condition, symptoms may also include loss of balance or a loss of bowel or bladder control.
The vertebral corpectomy procedure is performed under general anesthesia in a hospital setting and takes 3-4 hours to complete. During the procedure, an incision is made in the side of the body at the affected area, most commonly in the region of the cervical or lumbar spine. Any organs or tissue are gently moved aside in order to access the spine. In order to correct spinal compression, the discs above and below the affected vertebra are removed, along with the middle portion of the bone. A bone graft and metal hardware are inserted to stabilize the spine after the damaged structures have been removed. During the recovery period of 6 weeks to 3 months, the bone graft will fuse to the vertebrae above and below the one that was removed.
After surgery, patients remain in the hospital for 4 to 7 days in order to facilitate proper healing. Pain at the incision site can usually be managed with prescribed pain medications. Patients usually experience some immediate relief of back symptoms after the surgery and continue to notice more and more gradual improvement as time passes. Most patients are able to get up and walk around a few hours after the procedure. Certain activities, such as bending and strenuous exercise are restricted during the recovery period and physical therapy is recommended to assist patients in regaining strength and mobility.
As with any type of spinal surgery, a vertebral corpectomy has certain risks associated with it. Although the procedure usually goes smoothly, patients should be aware of the following risks: possible postsurgical infection, excessive bleeding, adverse reactions to anesthesia or medication, and nerve damage.