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What is a Spinal Tumor?

A spinal tumor is an abnormal mass of tissue surrounding or found within your spinal cord and/or spinal column.

Types of Spinal Tumors

Spinal tumors can be described in various ways based on their characteristics and location:

  • Primary tumors: Originate in your spinal column or spinal cord.
  • Secondary tumors: Spread from another part of your body to the spine (metastasis).
  • Benign (non-cancerous).
  • Malignant (cancerous).
  • Cervical.
  • Thoracic.
  • Lumbar.
  • Sacral.
  • Intradural extramedullary.
  • Intramedullary.
  • Extradural.

Spinal tumors that originate within the spinal cord or spinal column are named according to the tissues in which they develop:

  • Meningiomas.
  • Schwannomas.
  • Neurofibromas.
  • Ependymomas.
  • Astrocytomas.
  • Lipomas.

Indications for Spinal Tumor Surgery

Treatment for a spine tumor may be nonsurgical or surgical depending on the characteristics of the tumor and your overall health.

Primary spinal tumors may be resected whole to cure the condition.

In cases of metastatic tumors, your doctor may recommend surgery if:

  • You have pain that cannot be managed with conservative treatments.
  • The tumor is compressing on the spinal cord or nerves.
  • Your spine requires stabilization as it may fracture due to a growing tumor.

Surgery for metastatic tumors thus focuses on improving your quality of life.

Goals of Spinal Tumor Surgery

The goals of spinal tumor surgery include:

  • Remove the tumor to the greatest extent possible.
  • Minimize damage to the spine and surrounding structures.
  • Improve the stability of your spine.

Surgery to Treat a Spine Tumor

If surgical resection is possible, your doctor may perform a preoperative embolization procedure. During this procedure, your doctor will:

  • Insert a catheter (flexible tube) through an artery in the groin.
  • Guide the catheter up via the blood vessels to reach the tumor.
  • Deliver a glue-like liquid embolic agent that blocks the vessels feeding the tumor.

This procedure helps control bleeding during surgical removal of the tumor.

The spinal tumor may be approached from the back or front of the spine depending on its location. For extensive tumors (usually of the thorax and lumbar spine), surgery may be performed in stages, first approaching the tumor from the back and then the front.

All or part of the tumor may be removed to decompress the spine. This may be done at multiple levels and may involve the removal of vertebral bodies. Unstable areas of the spine are stabilized using fixation devices.

Recovery After Spinal Tumor Surgery

After surgery, your hospital stay may range from 2 to 14 days depending on your condition. You may be asked to participate in a physical rehabilitation program either in a hospital, outpatient facility or at home.


Your recovery after spine surgery greatly depends on:

  • Your age and overall health.
  • The type and extent of the tumor.
  • The complexity of your surgery.
  • What is Posterior Cervical Decompression?

    Posterior cervical decompression is a surgical procedure performed through the back of the neck to relieve pressure over compressed nerves in the cervical spine region caused by inflamed spinal tissue or nerves, by removing portions of the cervical vertebrae. Injury or wear-and-tear can cause parts of the cervical vertebrae to compress the nerves of the spinal cord, leading to pain, numbness, or tingling in the part of the body that the nerve supplies.

    Posterior cervical decompression can be performed through a minimal invasive approach. It does not require cutting and stripping of the muscles from the spine region, unlike the conventional open spine surgery, which requires spine muscles to be cut or stripped.

    Cervical Spine Anatomy

    The spine is made up of 33 small bones called vertebrae and is known as the spinal column or vertebral column. It can be divided into 5 parts: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, sacral, and coccyx region. The cervical spine is comprised of the first 7 vertebrae (C1-C7) and supports the neck and the head. The vertebrae are protected by spongy vertebral discs present between them and is supported by ligaments that hold them together and surround the underlying spinal cord.

    Indications for Posterior Cervical Decompression

    Posterior cervical decompression is usually indicated for herniated discs, spinal stenosis, bone spurs, bulging discs, spinal injury, spinal tumors and when conservative treatment options do not provide relief. 

    Preparation for Posterior Cervical Decompression

    You will have a preoperative assessment session before surgery. During your assessment, you must inform your doctor about any health conditions you may have, such as diabetes or bleeding disorders, and about any medications that you may be taking, such as blood thinners and over-the-counter medications. You may be asked to stop taking certain medicines for several days before the procedure.

    Your doctor will explain the surgical procedure, its risks and benefits, and answer all your other surgery-related queries before the procedure. Blood tests, X-rays or other imaging tests may also be ordered to assess your medical condition. 

    Procedure for Posterior Cervical Decompression

    The procedure is performed in the back of the neck under anesthesia with you lying face down.  Your surgeon makes a small incision in the midline over your cervical spine region. The layers of neck muscles are separated using a retractor, and the affected nerve root is identified. The lamina (bony arch of your vertebra) may be removed (laminectomy) and the facet joints may be trimmed to reach the compressed nerve. Then, the bone or disc material and/or thickened ligaments are removed, relieving the pressure on spinal nerve structures, creating decompression. The neck muscles are brought back into their original position by removing the retractor. The incisions are closed with absorbable sutures and covered with a dressing.

    Postoperative Care Instructions

    You can expect your post surgery hospitalization to last up to 7 days. Full recovery from cervical decompression surgery can take an average of 5 weeks. You will be discharged with instructions that need to be diligently followed for a complete recovery, including:

    • You will be prescribed pain medications to keep you comfortable
    • You may be given a soft cervical collar to wear for comfort and pain relief for a couple of weeks
    • Incision site care instructions will be provided to keep the incision clean and dry
    • You may take a shower after 1 week if the incision is closed and well healed and not draining any fluid
    • You need to call your doctor if you notice any swelling, redness, drainage, or increased pain at the incision site
    • You will be instructed on sleeping posture, such as keeping the head of the bed elevated at 30 degrees with the use of pillows or by sleeping in a reclining chair
    • You will need to avoid driving for a couple of weeks due to lack of head movement
    • Walking activities are strongly encouraged to aid in recovery
    • No overhead activities or strenuous activities and no lifting more than 15 pounds to avoid strain on the healing vertebrae for the first 1 to 2 weeks
    • Follow-up appointments will be scheduled to monitor progress

    Risks and Complications of Posterior Cervical Decompression

    As with any surgical procedure, posterior cervical decompression involves potential risks and complications that may include:

    • Infection
    • Bleeding
    • Leakage of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF)
    • Spinal cord or nerve root injury
    • Blood clot in the lungs or legs
    • Spinal instability
    • Neck or arm pain
    • Further procedure
  • American Medical Association
  • American College of Osteopathic Surgeons
  • American Osteopathic Association
  • North American Spine