Our Guide to Anterior Cervical Discectomy

Woman suffering from chronic neck pain

Our Guide to Anterior Cervical Discectomy

Among the many surgical procedures that we offer for relieving chronic pain is something known as anterior cervical discectomy. The procedure is also known as anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) due to the fact that bones in the cervical spine are fused together. ACDF may be an option if you are suffering chronic neck pain and no other treatments have helped.

This guide will introduce you to ACDF, its uses, how it is performed, and what you could expect from recovery. If you think ACDF might be your best hope for relieving chronic neck pain, please make an appointment to see one of our doctors. We would be happy to consult with you.

When ACDF is Appropriate

ACDF is designed to remove damaged disc tissue from the neck. You may have a herniated disc, for example, that can only be sufficiently addressed by surgical tissue removal. The procedure is designated as ‘anterior’ because we access the damaged tissue through the front of the neck rather than the back.

Most often, ACDF is appropriate for people suffering from disk-related pain for whom things like exercise, physical therapy, and pain medications have proven ineffective. Many of the patients who benefit most from ACDF suffer from pain that is not limited to the affected joint itself. It radiates into the back and shoulder as well. Patients might even be suffering with headaches and muscle stiffness.

In essence, ACDF is designed for individuals whose herniated discs are causing significant discomfort and limiting both mobility and quality of life.

How the Procedure Works

ACDF is an outpatient procedure performed under general anesthetic. Being an outpatient procedure means that there is generally no need for an overnight stay in the hospital. Most patients return home the same day as the surgery. As for the procedure itself, it starts with a small incision in the front of the neck.

Once access to the spine is created, the affected disc is removed. If nothing else were done at this point, the bones on either side of the removed tissue would grind together and cause pain. So to avoid this, and increase the stability of the spine, the two bones are fused together.

Material will be added between the two bones to help create stability. In this respect, the doctor has three options: a bone graft, a bone graft substitute, or an artificial disc. If a bone graft is chosen, the patient will provide the bone material him/herself. This will require a second incision at the graft site.

What to Expect During Recovery

ACDF is a very safe procedure when done by an experienced doctor. In most cases, the greatest risk comes from the anesthesia rather than the actual procedure. Note that it is possible to develop respiratory problems as a result of anesthesia. Other possible side effects include:

  • long-term pain at the graft site
  • infection (at the incision site or the vertebrae itself)
  • above normal bleeding.

Most people need 4 to 6 weeks for complete recovery, though a return to normal activity begins in as early as 1 to 2 weeks. Patients generally meet with their doctors for follow-up a month or so after the procedure. Physical therapy may be recommended to help reduce pain and restore mobility. While ACDF does not completely relieve pain in every patient, it should at least reduce pain to little more than inconvenient stiffness.

If you are suffering from neck pain in Weatherford or the surrounds and you believe ACDF might be an option for you, let us talk. We want to help you overcome your chronic neck pain in whatever way is most suitable for you.

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