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An anterior cervical discectomy is an operation performed on your upper spine to relieve pain caused by a herniated disc.

Your back is made up of 24 hollow bones (vertebrae) held together by fibrous plates called discs. Your discs can become worn or be injured causing the soft centre of the disc to push out of its normal space. This is called a herniated disc. In most cases fusion surgery is also performed to stabilise your cervical spine.

What happens during ACDF?

ACDF is performed under general anaesthetic. An anterior (from the front) approach allows your surgeon easier access to your cervical spine. An incision (cut) will be made in the side of your neck. They may confirm the location of the diseased disc using x-ray. Part of, or the entire disc, will be removed. Your surgeon may also decompress (clear out) any bone spurs or disc material that may be putting pressure on your nerves.

When the disc is removed a space remains. A bone graft to fill and stabilise this area is performed. This encourages the growth of bone (fusion) between two vertebrae while allowing space for nerve roots in your spinal cord. Sometimes a surgical plate and screws are used to reinforce the bone graft. Your surgical wound will be closed with stitches or staples.

Immediately after your surgery you will be taken to a recovery area where we will monitor your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing. We will give you medication to control pain but please tell us if you are in any discomfort. Once you are stable, you will be moved to your own room where we will be able to help you to begin to move around.

Going home after ACDF

Patients that have 1-2 levels of their cervical spine decompressed and fused are allowed to go home the same day as their procedure. If you are having any difficulty breathing or any other instability you may need to stay overnight with us.

Be sure and arrange for someone to take you home as you will not be able to drive until released to do so by your surgeon.

Continue to take any pain relief medication as directed and follow any restrictions recommended by your surgeon including lifting and bending. You may have difficulty swallowing, a sore throat or hoarseness. These symptoms should ease in 1-4 weeks.

Recovery from ACDF can take 6 weeks or longer. Full fusion may take up to 18 months post surgery. Discuss any return to work with your surgeon.

As with any surgical procedure there could be complications including:

Specific complications of ACDF may include:

  • Fusion failure
  • Nerve damage
  • Continued swallowing or speech problems

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