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ACDF Surgery: Anterior Cervical Discectomy & Fusion

An anterior cervical discectomy and fusion is a surgical procedure performed on the bones of the neck. It treats different conditions affecting the cervical spine, such as nerve pain, disc herniation, spinal tumor, and fracture.

If you have been diagnosed with one of these conditions and will be undergoing ACDF surgery, then you’re on the right page. Read on below to learn more about the surgery’s procedure, recovery time, risks, and more.

What is an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgery?

Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion is a minimally invasive procedure used to treat neck, arm, and back pain caused by a damaged intervertebral disc. It involves decompressing the spine by removing the damaged disc, then fusing the two healthy spinal bones together to create stability. 

The procedure helps relieve the debilitating symptoms of neck problems, such as radiating neck pain, weakness, tingling, and numbness. 

ACDF surgery is a combination of two procedures: spinal decompression and spinal fusion.

  • Anterior cervical discectomy 

is the removal of the damaged cervical disc between two vertebral bones. The surgical approach is performed anteriorly, which means the surgeon will make a cut at the front of the neck.

  • Fusion 

after the disc removal, the surgeon will perform a bone graft or insert an artificial disc implant in place of the damaged one, then fuse it with the vertebral discs. This aims to create stability and strength in the cervical segment of the spine.

ACDF surgery is a complex procedure that should only be performed by a board-certified doctor who has undergone specialized training, such as an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon.

When do you need ACDF surgery?

An anterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgery is an excellent treatment option for patients with pinched nerves due to worn-out spinal discs or bone spurs. It can also help treat a number of cervical spine problems, such as:

  • Cervical radiculopathy  

Cervical radiculopathy - a pinched or compressed nerve in the neck that causes moderate to severe pain that may radiate onto the back and arms.

  • Cervical spondylosis 

Cervical spondylosis - age-related wear and tear that occurs in the bones, joints, and discs of the neck (cervical spine). It is also known as arthritis of the neck.

  • Cervical disc herniation 

Cervical disc herniation - a progressive disorder caused by a ruptured disc, causing its gel-like center to come out and push into the nerves or compress the spinal cord inside the spinal canal.

  • Spine infection or spinal tumor  

the procedure may be used after the initial treatment of spinal infection or removal of a spinal tumor.

  • Cervical spine fracture 

sometimes, a surgeon may opt to use ACDF surgery for rare cases of a cervical spine fracture.

All of these conditions cause numbness, weakness, and pain that can also affect the arms and legs. An ACDF procedure can help alleviate these symptoms instantly and may last for an extended period of time. 

But before recommending the procedure, your physician would need to assess your health and evaluate your conditions first. If conservative treatment options cease to work, then that’s the time to consider an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion.

How is it performed?

The surgery starts with the patient lying on their back so that the surgeon can access the neck anteriorly. Then, an anesthesiologist will administer general anesthesia so the patient won’t feel anything during the procedure:

  • A skin incision of about two inches will be made on the front of the neck. This allows the surgeon to access the cervical spine without hitting any nerves or cutting too many muscles.
  • The trachea, esophagus, and arteries will be moved to the side. The surgeon will carefully identify the problematic disc using the help of fluoroscopy.
  • Once identified, the damaged disc will be slowly removed together with bone spurs that may be pinching the nerves. 
  • The surgeon will fill the empty space with a bone or implant, then stabilize it using a metal plate screwed into the neighboring discs. Lastly, the incision will be sutures closed with stitches.

Generally, the whole procedure only takes one to two hours. However, it may take up to three hours or more for complex conditions or badly diseased discs. Patients can then go home after the procedure once the anesthesia wears off. 

Panther Creek UNC

What to expect after your anterior cervical discectomy and fusion?

Most patients get relieved of their neck, arm, or back pain right after the surgery. However, it’s normal to feel pain in the shoulder blades, experience a sore throat, and have difficulty swallowing. These are just temporary post-operative symptoms, which will go away after a few days. Here are some tips you can keep in mind once you go home:

  • Avoid moving your neck to give the bone time to heal and fuse. Stay off strenuous activities, such as heavy lifting, housework, driving, etc. Your doctor will tell you when you can resume such activities.
  • Follow the incision care and medication instructions provided by your doctor.
  • Wear your brace or cervical collar as prescribed.
  • Attend your physical therapy sessions if prescribed. Make sure to perform the neck stretches and exercises your doctor may recommend.
  • Attend your weekly follow-up appointments. During your check-up, your doctor will conduct an X-ray to know if the fusion is going well.

Full recovery may take at least two to six months or longer, depending on how severe your cervical problem is. 

Panther Creek UNC: Providing high-quality medical care and orthopedic treatment

The Orthopaedic Surgery Center of Panther Creek is one of the leading outpatient surgery center in Cary that provides superior patient care and services. Our board-certified physicians specialize in performing complex procedures using state-of-the-art techniques and equipment. 

Contact us now to learn more about the vast array of orthopedic services we provide. 

The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.

outpatient orthopedic surgery cary
6715 McCrimmon Parkway
Suite 205 A 
Cary, NC 27519
Monday – Friday: 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
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