What is ACDF Surgery?
The minimally invasive ACDF is a 2-part procedure including a discectomy and fusion performed from the front (anterior) of the neck (cervical spine) where the vertebrae and disc are most accessible and can be reached without disturbing the spinal cord. The goal of an ACDF is to decompress the nerve root or spinal cord to relieve pain, pressure, and inflammation.
The surgeon makes a small incision on the side of the neck (near the front – anterior) and works between the esophagus/trachea complex on one side and carotid artery on the other side. These structures are carefully protected during the surgery. The surgeon then removes the diseased or damaged disc. Once the diseased or damaged disc is removed, any bone spurs that press on nerve roots are also removed.
The empty disc space is filled with bone graft to maintain the proper disc height. A fusion occurs when the bones grow together and create a bond between the two vertebrae. However, it can take up to a year for the vertebrae to be fully fused.
In the interim, immediate stability for the cervical spine is maintained by placing a titanium plate over the bone graft. The plate is attached to the affected vertebrae using tiny screws.
ACDF Surgery Recovery
Most ACDF patients can go home the same day. At most, you will spend one or two nights in the hospital.
Soon after you wake up from surgery, a physical therapist will assist you in sitting up and walking around. Expect to wear a neck collar from 6 weeks to 3 months depending on the extent of your surgery. You may have a sore throat or difficulty swallowing for a week or two. But overall, there is not much pain associated with this surgery.
Unless there is irreversible nerve damage or spinal cord damage present prior to surgery, the ACDF procedure has a very high success rate for relieving arm pain, weakness and numbness.
Who can be helped by an ACDF?
The most important factor in considering whether or not to have ACDF surgery, however, is the severity of the symptoms from these spinal issues.
- Are there signs of cervical disc damage on an imaging scan?
- Is there neurological impairment or significant weakness in your hand or arm?
- Does your arm hurt more than your neck?
- Have pain medications and physical therapy failed to reduce your symptoms?
Only an advanced diagnosis based on your symptoms can tell what is causing your pain. In cases of myelopathy with spinal cord compromise, only surgery may help.
If you can say yes to any of these questions, ACDF may be an option to alleviate pain caused by your cervical spine condition.
- Have you had from persistent pain or numbness in your arms or hands for 6 months or longer?
- Have you tried conservative treatments with no relief?
- Have you been diagnosed with cervical degenerative disc disease, radiculopathy or myelopathy?
What Conditions does an ACDF Treat?
When a nerve root here becomes compressed or irritated, it’s more than just neck pain. It can produce a condition called radiculopathy, sending pain signals radiating out from the neck through arms and hands, often combined with weakness and numbness.
When the spinal cord is compression, it creates a similar condition called myelopathy, causing weakness of upper and/or lower extremities, loss of coordination and risk of disability.
Injury or Trauma:
An ACDF can also help patients who have suffered an injury or trauma to the neck.
Other Spinal Conditions:
ACDF has proven beneficial for some patients who have been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease or arthritis of the cervical spine when conservative, non-surgical treatments did not alleviate pain and numbness.
Other possible indications include tumors or cervical deformity.
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