Relieving chronic neck pain usually focuses on surgical procedures, and in many cases the curve of a person’s neck is ignored. Our understanding of the importance of this curve has been growing, and a new study published in the March 2015 issue of the journal Neurosurgery now shows that if a surgeon happens to fuse a neck without a proper curve, bad things happen.

The term lordosis means curve. The normal neck has a C-shaped curve that’s critical in distributing weight. (To see how weight should be distributed between the discs in front and the facet joints in the back, see the video “Understanding the Spine.”) When the normal neck curve is lost more weight is placed on the discs, leading to a higher risk of disc failure.

How important is it for surgeons to respect the curve when they fuse a patient’s neck? A new four-year study followed 113 patients who underwent neck-fusion surgery. The curves of their necks were measured after their surgeries. The authors found that the lack of a normal curve directly correlated with increasing disability. In other words, getting fused with the wrong neck curve caused problems for patients.

In patients whose necks have been surgically fused with no curve, the head pulls forward rather being centered on the spine, and this pulls the neck muscles toward the shoulder blades. Regrettably, after surgery there’s little that can be done to fix the issue other than treat the symptoms of pain.

The practical reality? Avoid neck fusion whenever possible. If you absolutely must undergo such a surgery, make sure that your surgeon understands the importance of retaining your neck’s natural curve.

Neck-Fusion Complications: Getting Fused Without the Curve first appeared as a post on the Regenexx blog.