All About C5 and C6 Treatments

November 8, 2023
By Justin Field, M.D.
Dr. Field is a board certified, fellowship trained orthopedic spine surgeon. Dr. Field has specialized training in minimally invasive spine surgery and motion sparing technologies, such as cervical and lumbar Artificial Disc Replacement, as well as non-fusion stabilization. In addition, he has extensive training in adult deformity correction and treatment.
All About C5 and C6 Treatments

Each vertebra plays a role in supporting the body’s structure and facilitating movement. In this article, we will look at the cervical vertebrae, which comprise the upper portion of the spine. Specifically, the fifth (C5) and sixth (C6) vertebrae, as they hold special significance. 

C5, the fifth cervical vertebra, finds its position just below C4 and above C6. Its structural makeup includes a vertebral body and a vertebral arch. It is responsible for the processes, like spinous and transverse, that serve as anchor points for muscles and ligaments. At the C5 level, nerve roots emerge from the spinal cord, forming a part of the brachial plexus — a complex network of nerves governing movement and sensation in the arms and hands.

Underneath the C6, the sixth cervical vertebra features a vertebral body, vertebral arch and associated processes that provide structural support to the spine. Nerve roots originating from C6 are involved in the brachial plexus, influencing the functionality of the upper limbs, including arm and hand movement and sensation.

Conditions involved with the C5 and C6 are disc herniationdegenerative changes and nerve compression, which can lead to symptoms like neck pain, arm pain, weakness and numbness.

Nonsurgical Treatment Options

Nonsurgical treatments offer several advantages, so healthcare professionals often recommend them over surgical options. Here are a few of those benefits:

  • Conservative approach: Nonsurgical methods are less invasive and typically involve fewer risks than surgery, making them suitable for many patients.
  • Preservation of spinal function: These treatments aim to alleviate symptoms and improve function without altering the natural structure of the spine.
  • Lower recovery time: Nonsurgical interventions often result in shorter recovery periods, allowing individuals to return to regular activities sooner.

Nonsurgical treatment options offered to patients depend on their history and the severity of the issue. Here are some options a healthcare professional might suggest:

  • Physical therapy: Skilled therapists develop personalized exercise regimens that strengthen neck and shoulder muscles, improve posture, and enhance flexibility. These exercises help alleviate pain and prevent further injury.
  • Medications: Pain management through medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants and analgesics, can provide relief from discomfort associated with C5 and C6 conditions. 
  • Cervical traction: Cervical traction involves the application of gentle, controlled force to the neck. It can be administered by a health care professional or through devices used at home.
  • Cervical epidural steroid injections (ESIs) are administered by pain management doctors as a short-term solution to alleviate chronic neck pain stemming from specific causes. These injections involve the administration of an anti-inflammatory medication into the epidural space surrounding the spinal nerves. Temporary pain relief is reported by approximately 40% to 84% of individuals who undergo cervical ESIs.

Surgical Treatment Options

The choice of C5 C6 surgery conditions depends on various factors, including the specific diagnosis and the patient’s overall health and preferences. Individuals must thoroughly discuss with their healthcare providers to determine the most appropriate surgical approach tailored to their unique needs and circumstances. 

While non-surgical treatments can effectively address many C5 and C6 spine conditions, there are instances where surgical intervention becomes necessary to alleviate C5 C6 symptoms and prevent further complications. Here, we explore some standard surgical procedures:

Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF)

ACDF is a common surgical procedure to address herniated discsspinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease at the C5 and C6 levels. During the procedure, the damaged disc or portion of the disc is removed, and a bone graft is inserted to promote fusion between the adjacent vertebrae.

Cervical Artificial Disc Replacement

This surgical option involves removing the disc between C5 and C6 and replacing it with an artificial disc replacement via surgery. This artificial disc mimics a healthy disc’s natural movement and function. It can be a suitable alternative to fusion for certain patients.

Posterior Foraminotomy

In a posterior foraminotomy, surgeons access the C5 and C6 regions from the back of the neck. They remove bone and tissue to enlarge the neural foramen, the openings where nerve roots exit the spine. This procedure can relieve pressure on nerve roots caused by conditions like foraminal stenosis.


A laminectomy involves the removal of a portion of the vertebral arch (lamina) to create more space within the spinal canal. It aims to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots, reducing pain and neurological symptoms.

Fusion Procedures

Fusion procedures involve the fusion of adjacent vertebrae at the C5 and C6 levels using bone grafts or cages and plates and screws. Fusion is typically recommended when there is instability in the cervical spine due to conditions like severe degeneration, trauma or tumor removal.

Recovery and Rehabilitation

Recovery and rehabilitation phases optimize healing, restore functionality and help patients regain their quality of life. 

Post-Surgery Recovery

The duration of the hospital stay after surgical treatment for C5 and C6 conditions varies depending on the procedure and individual factors. Some surgeries require only a brief hospitalization, while others require a more extended monitoring stay. There are a number of C5 C6 pain treatments as follows:

  • Pain management: Patients are often given pain medications to alleviate discomfort during the initial recovery phase.
  • Wound care: Surgeons and health care providers will provide instructions on caring for the surgical incision, which may involve keeping the area clean and monitoring for signs of infection.
  • Mobility: Early mobilization is encouraged to prevent complications such as blood clots and muscle atrophy. Patients are typically encouraged to engage in gentle movements and walking under the guidance of health care professionals.
  • Brace usage: In non-fusion cases, patients may be fitted with a cervical collar or brace to immobilize the neck and support the healing process. All fusion patients utilize a brace to promote healing of the spinal fusion.

Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy

Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy

Physical therapists work with patients to gradually reintroduce movement and improve mobility while ensuring the surgical site remains stable and secure.

  • Strengthening exercises: Physical therapy includes exercises that strengthen the neck, shoulders and upper back muscles. These exercises help stabilize the cervical spine and promote proper posture.
  • Range of motion exercises: Patients will engage in motion exercises to improve flexibility in the neck and reduce stiffness. 

Long-Term Management

After completing the initial recovery and rehabilitation phases, individuals should continue to prioritize their spinal health. This includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle, practicing good posture and staying active. Regular follow-up appointments with health care providers help monitor progress and address any concerns.

Recovery and rehabilitation after surgical treatment for C5 and C6 spine conditions require patience and commitment. With the guidance of skilled health care professionals and a proactive approach to healing, individuals can often significantly improve their spinal health and overall well-being.

Prevention and Lifestyle Adjustments

By adopting proactive measures and making mindful choices, individuals can reduce the risk of developing spine issues and manage existing conditions more effectively. Here are some strategies for prevention and lifestyle adjustments that promote the well-being of the C5 and C6 vertebrae:

  • Maintain good posture: Be mindful of your posture, especially when sitting, standing or working at a computer. Ensure your head is neutral and shoulders relaxed and squared.
  • Regular exercise: Engage in exercises that strengthen the muscles supporting the neck and shoulders. Incorporate stretching routines to maintain flexibility and reduce muscle tension.
  • Aerobic exercise: Regular aerobic activities like walking, swimming or cycling can help improve overall spine health by promoting circulation.
  • Screening: Regular medical checkups can help identify early signs of spine issues or other health conditions that may impact spinal health.
  • Consult with a health care professional: If you experience persistent neck pain, numbness or other symptoms related to C5 and C6 spine conditions, seek prompt medical attention. Early intervention can prevent the worsening of these conditions.

Consult with Desert Institute for Spine Care

Consult with Desert Institute for Spine Care

The cervical spine, a remarkable region composed of seven vertebrae, gives us the extraordinary ability to move our heads precisely and gracefully. Yet, as with any intricate structure, it is not immune to wear and tear. Neck pain is a concern for 80% of the population at some point in their life.

Your neck deserves the best care available, and that’s precisely what Desert Institute for Spine Care (DISC) provides. Don’t let neck pain hold you back— contact us to schedule an appointment today. Your journey to a pain-free life begins here.

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