Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACFD) is a surgical procedure in which your doctor removes a damaged disc from your neck. Once removed, your orthopedic surgeon stabilizes the area by inserting a bone graft into the gap. This bone graft helps the two vertebrae fuse together during the healing process.
Between each bone of the spinal column lies a protective cushion called a disc. These discs absorb the shock of our everyday movements and protect us during falls and other traumas. When a disc becomes damaged, whether because of age or injury, you may experience certain symptoms. These warning signs include pain, stiffness, decreased range of motion, and/or numbness in other areas of the body.
The ACFD procedure has two main steps:
Anterior Cervical Discectomy: The orthopedic surgeon makes a small incision (about 1 to 2 inches) in the throat area. After retracting the soft tissues of the neck, your surgeon has gained access to the cervical spine. Now, he or she can remove the damaged disc.
If the patient suffers from osteoarthritis, then the surgeon may also perform a decompression procedure. During this process, your surgeon will remove any osteophytes (or bone spurs) from the spine. Doing so helps to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
Spinal Fusion: Next, the surgeon places a bone graft between the two vertebrae that were adjacent to the removed disc. This keeps the vertebrae from collapsing and assists with the healing process.
Bone grafts come from a piece of bone that is either sourced from the patient’s body (e.g. hips, pelvis, wrist) or from a bone bank. Some surgeons prefer to use artificial materials to graft the bones. Then, the surgeon further stabilizes the front of the spine with plates and screws. This process also promotes faster fusing of the vertebrae, as they are now held together.
In time, bone will form where the disc used to be. And, eventually, the two vertebrae will fuse into one.
ACFD is usually performed as an outpatient procedure in an orthopedic doctor’s office or hospital. In addition, you will be given general anesthesia to help you sleep through the procedure.
After the surgery, you will likely experience some pain and discomfort. This can be controlled with medications and rest. You may be able to go home the same day as the procedure or after a night spent in the hospital.
Recovery time varies based on the severity of the condition, your overall health, and any complications during surgery. Typically, you can expect to undergo about 4 to 6 weeks of recovery time. You may, however, be able to return to some activities within a week or two.
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Of course, one of the main advantages of ACDF includes removing a bulging or herniated disc that is causing you discomfort. After the recovery period, many patients enjoy a significant reduction in pain and other symptoms.
In addition, modern medical technology has made this a relatively uncomplicated surgery where you could be able to go home the same day. In fact, the incision made to your throat is usually just about an inch in length. So, others may not even notice that you had neck surgery.
Advances in technology have also made the recovery time from this procedure faster. The miniature equipment that a surgeon uses ensures a minimally invasive surgery. And, the less invasive the procedure, the easier it is for the body to heal itself.
You may think traveling through the back of the neck is the easiest way for your doctor to access your spine. This is not the case. Muscles and bones make it difficult to reach the damaged disc when entering through the back of the neck.
By making a small incision in the throat, your surgeon has easier access to more parts of the cervical spine. He or she also gains a direct view of the cervical discs. So, how does that benefit you? With less pain after the operation because this is a less intrusive means of removing that disc.
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To find out if ACDF is the best option for you, consult with your doctor or orthopedic surgeon. Once the source of your neck pain and other symptoms are discovered, doctors usually begin by recommending more conservative treatments. For example, you may be prescribed pain medications or physical therapy.
If you are not responding to conservative treatments, an orthopedic surgeon will evaluate your condition and see if surgery is the next step. Typically, if you experience ongoing pain for more than six weeks, it’s a good sign that you need surgery.
The ACDF surgery is generally reserved for patients who have herniated discs in the neck area. Those with degenerative disc disease may also benefit from removing severely damaged discs. Another common reason for choosing ACDF is to remove bone spurs. (Bone spurs are bony growths on the spine that occur most often in people who have osteoarthritis or spinal stenosis.)
If you’re looking to have ACDF surgery, or simply want to find the best way to resolve your pain, NJ Spine and Orthopedic can help. Our experienced orthopedic doctors use the latest technology to shorten recovery times, minimize scarring, and achieve longer lasting results.
If you’ve been dealing with chronic pain, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our dedicated team of patient advocates and board-certified doctors will be happy to point you in the right direction. Our spine experts are ready to help you “Get Your Life Back!”
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Effective pain relief; less scarring— a postage stamp-sized incision (less than an inch in length) is often all that it takes to eliminate your pain.
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