Our Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) procedure relieves back pain caused by nerve root or spinal cord compression in the cervical (neck) spine. The procedure removes the problematic disc, decompressing the spinal cord and nerve roots to relieve the pressure. Once this is accomplished, a fusion stabilizes the vertebrae. Our procedure at the Spine Institute Northwest is designed to be performed via a very small incision, allowing for a much quicker recovery time.
What Causes Chronic Neck Pain?
Intense pain in the cervical (upper) spine is often caused by a herniated or bulging disc. The injured disc puts pressure on nearby nerve roots or on the spine itself, causing pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling. Degenerative disc injuries can be brought on by an acute injury, or can be the result of wear and tear over time.
How Does ACDF Work?
This combination spine procedure has two parts, a decompression followed by a fusion. First, a discectomy is performed to reduce the compression. The surgeon enters through a small incision in the neck, and removes the injured disc. Any additional tissue that is compressing the nerves is also taken out, reducing pressure and creating more space. Next, a fusion procedure is performed to increase stability and prevent the vertebrae from collapsing into the space where the disc was removed. The vertebrae on either side of the space where the disc was are “fused” back together using a bone graft and a cage implant. A plate and screws are attached to the vertebrae as well to increase the chances for a solid fusion. Over time, this creates a “bridge” of bone that allows the cervical spine to properly support itself. Though in some cases, the plate and screws are later surgically removed, but for most people these remain in place.
What Can I Expect from an ACDF Procedure?
This type of surgery uses a small incision, allowing most patients to be in and out of our surgical center in one day, and to enjoy a much quicker return to normal activity. A minimally invasive ACDF procedure typically takes 2-3 hours per vertebra level, and you will awaken in our recovery room where you will be cared for by one of our registered nurses. Our nurses can provide you with fluids and snacks as needed, and will make every effort to ensure that you do not become nauseated.
Following the procedure, you will need to wear a rigid or soft brace in order to support your neck and reduce movement, helping your fusion take hold. You should not expect to be pain free immediately after surgery; you will be provided with prescriptions for pain relief medication upon your discharge. Additionally, you may find that your mouth is blue for a day or two—this is simply due to a dye used for imaging during the surgery. The Spine Institute Northwest team will follow up with you throughout your recovery to check on your fusion.
What are the Risks Associated with ACDF Surgery?
Minimally invasive ACDF has risks and possible complications, as you would find with any surgery. Though to date the Spine Institute Northwest has had a 0% infection rate, you should know that possible risks include infection, graft failure, nerve damage, and residual pain.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, please call the Spine Institute Northwest immediately: fever or chills, shortness of breath, recurrent nausea and vomiting, inability to urinate, excessive pain, or redness, swelling, or drainage from the incision site.
Want to find out if you are a candidate for ACDF? Our surgeons can help determine if this procedure could help with your chronic neck pain. To schedule a free consultation, call the Spine Institute Northwest today at (425) 486-1000.