A person touching their neck in pain in Bethesda.Cervical fusion is a surgical procedure that involves fusing two or more vertebrae in the neck. It is often used to treat neck pain, spinal instability, and nerve compression. Due to the increased ligamentous laxity in patients with EDS, a cervical fusion may be considered for those with persistent pain from cervical instability.  Symptoms of cervical instability include headaches, nausea, blurred vision, vertigo/dizziness, extremity numbness/weakness, and inability to support the weight of one’s head.  However, for patients with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), cervical fusion carries a higher risk of medical and surgical complications.

To learn more about the symptoms of cervical instability and how they can affect patients with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, contact us online or call (301) 656-5613 today and speak with one of our professionals.

EDS affects the body’s collagen, which is a major component of connective tissue. As a result, people with EDS often have more fragile tissue, which can make a recovery from a cervical fusion more prone to surgical and medical complications.  A recent study by Li et al in the Global Spine Journal determined the most common medical and surgical complications that patients with EDS may face following cervical fusion include:

  1. Wound dehiscence: Patients with EDS typically have fragile skin and impaired wound healing, which can increase the risk of wound dehiscence (a separation of the surgical incision). This can increase the risk of infection and delay healing.
  2. Hardware failure: Patients with EDS may have atypical joint and bone structures (collagen affects bone as well), which can increase the risk of hardware failure (e.g., screws, rods, or plates used in the fusion). This can require revision surgery to replace the hardware.
  3. Pseudoarthrosis: Pseudoarthrosis is a condition where the fusion fails to unite the vertebrae fully. This can occur more frequently in patients with EDS due to abnormal collagen production and tissue fragility.
  4. Surgical Revision: Fusing cervical segments may increase spinal instability in adjacent cervical joints. When motion is limited due to the fusion, neighboring segments will potentially experience more stress/strain to compensate. 
  5. Vascular complications: Patients with EDS may have blood vessel fragility, which can increase the risk of vascular complications such as blood clots leading to a cerebrovascular incident or pulmonary embolism 

It is important for patients with EDS to discuss the risks and benefits of cervical fusion with their healthcare provider. Alternative treatments, such as physical therapy or bracing, may be recommended to avoid surgical complications. At Bethesda Physiocare, we have helped many patients delay or avoid surgery through individualized physical therapy care.  If cervical fusion is necessary, a surgeon with experience treating EDS patients may be better equipped to manage the increased risk of complications. Close monitoring and follow-up care are crucial to detect and manage any potential complications after surgery. Contact us online or call (301) 656-5613 to learn more about our services and how we can assist you today.