Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (commonly called ACDF) is a common spine surgery performed for patients that have a “pinched” nerve. The nerve may be pinched by a disk bulge, a bone spur or both. Most patients initially notice neck and shoulder pain. They often describe it as a crick in the neck. They then notice the pain radiating down the arm. Often the symptoms even go into the fingertips. Patients describe pain, numbness and sometimes weakness in the affected arm. When patients have tried all non-operative treatment options such as medications, physical therapy, and injections, and they still have symptoms of neck pain, shoulder blade pain and arm pain we often suggest ACDF as the solution.
This procedure involves a surgery whereby we remove the entire disk, thereby freeing up the pinched nerve, and replacing the removed disk(s) with a spacer. The spacer can be a synthetic material (plastic polymer) or actual bone. We most often use a synthetic spacer and it will have a bone graft synthetic product incorporated into it which will promote the 2 vertebrae to fuse. We then use small low profile stabilizing plates to keep the spacer in place while the segment safely fuses. This particular part of the spine will fuse over the ensuing 2-12 months. The neck should maintain near full if not full range of motion because each individual spine segment does not account for a lot of motion.
A majority of our patients that undergo this surgery have it done as an outpatient. The average length of time for this surgery is about 1 hour. It is performed with a small 1-2 inch incision in the front or anterior part of the neck. We do restrict our patients from certain activities for the first 6-8 weeks after the surgery to allow our patients to heal properly. Most patient with sedentary jobs can return to work in approximately 2 weeks. Those patients that perform heavier labor-intensive jobs often need to remain out of work for 4-6 weeks.
On average, most patients can begin driving in 1-3 weeks after surgery. If a patient has multiple pinched nerves often we perform the surgery at more than one level. In our experience, ACDF can be a very successful surgery with low risk and it allows patients to return to their lives pain free and quickly.