Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion is a procedure that removes any herniated disks or deteriorated structures of the spine. A bone graft is inserted into the disk space so the new bone can grow. The procedure alleviates pressure in the spinal cord caused by nerve compression.
What is it?
A cervical discectomy aims to relieve pain or discomfort in the neck caused by a herniated disc. After bulging or otherwise moving out of place, the herniated disc will oftentimes put pressure on nerve roots or the spinal cord. The anterior cervical discectomy and fusion procedure (ACDF) attempts to remove the problematic disc. There are many different kinds of cervical fusion and discectomy procedures that will vary based on the patient’s needs, but almost all will also include a fusion procedure as well. After the disc is removed, the adjacent vertebrae will be fused to prevent damage to the spinal cord.
What should I do to prepare?
A few days before surgery, you will undergo various pre-surgical tests, such as imaging and blood tests. You may be asked to take certain medications the day of the surgery. Any blood thinners or NSAIDs will need to be stopped for one to two weeks before surgery. You will not be able to eat or drink anything after midnight prior to surgery. You will also be asked to stop smoking prior to surgery, as smoking decreases blood circulation and nicotine is known to impede bone growth, endangering the success of a proper bone fusion.
What happens during the process?
Patients will be under general anesthesia for the entirety of this procedure. This surgery is performed while the patient is lying on their back with the surgical incision being made on the front of the neck. Performing surgery in this way reduces the amount of postoperative pain the patient will experience and gives the surgeon easier access to the spine. After a muscle is cut and the disc is removed from the spine, a bone graft will be placed in the space where the disc was previously located. This bone will allow for the two separate vertebrae to grow together over the next several months. The patient can usually go home on the same day the surgery is performed.
What are the risks and potential complications?
The neck and spine are very sensitive and complex areas of the body. A cervical discectomy has the chance to cause a number of complications including intense postoperative pain (either in the spine or from the donor site of the bone graft), unsuccessful symptom relief (usually pain) following the surgery, failure of the bone graft to remain in place or induce new bone growth, discomfort or difficulty swallowing, damage to the esophagus or trachea, damage to the spinal cord or nerve roots, and other possible complications involved with surgery such as bleeding and infection.
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