Do You Need ACDF?

Some people who’ve suffered from long-term pain neck pain due to a herniated or degenerated disc may need surgery. In some cases, an orthopedic surgeon may specifically recommend ACDF. Known as Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion, the surgery removes damaged discs and helps the surrounding bones fuse. The surgery is effective but needs extensive recovery.

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Disc damage can cause unwanted pain

Research estimates about 2% of American adults will experience a herniated disc at some point, with men twice as likely to do so. The spine consists of several vertebrae with fibrous discs between each pair. These discs help with shock absorption and stability. Due to wear and tear, arthritis, or injury, the discs can shift out of place or degenerate. A damaged disc presses on surrounding nerves, causing pain, stiffness, and discomfort. This condition can happen anywhere along the spine but is more common in the cervical and lumbar areas.

Treating neck pain with ACDF

Cervical disc pain refers explicitly to the neck region. Herniated cervical discs cause neck pain, stiffness and can move to the shoulder or arm. Surprisingly, most respond well to non-surgical treatment. But for some, over time, surgery is best. With ACDF, the surgeon removes the damaged disc, bone spurs and then installs a spacer bone graft. A metal plate holds the 2 bones together for recovery. Over time, the vertebrae fuse over the graft to form one solid bone. ACDF also means the surgeon enters from the front of the neck, moving the trachea, esophagus, and neck tissue to access the spine. In some cases, the surgeon may remove more than one disc.

Starting recovery

ACDF can happen under minimally invasive means or traditional surgery, which can impact recovery time. Recovery starts immediately, and most patients can go home the same day of surgery with help from a family member. The first 2-3 weeks would require pain and wound management. The throat and neck area can be very painful, so medication and rest are crucial. The doctor will give instructions on showering, moving, lifting, and medication management to avoid infection or complication. The patient may also have a neck brace during this period. At the 2-week mark, the doctor will remove any stitches and comment on the possible recovery timeline.

Back to work

From the 3-week mark and beyond, the bones should continue the fusion process. Physical therapy should start at this stage to improve strength and range of motion. Along with pain management, the recovery period should take an additional 12 weeks. From there, actions like driving, gardening, exercise, or swimming are possible. Finally, at that 3-month mark, the surgeon will review the fusion with x-rays. Over 12 months, the bones should be fully fused.

Maximizing your recovery timeline

While there aren’t many ways to shorten the recovery window significantly, there are ways to prevent extended recovery time. Make sure to maintain a healthy diet, avoid smoking and alcohol. Keep the physical therapy schedule as much as possible. Don’t over-rotate the neck, sit or stand for long periods. Like any surgery, ACDF has risks but also a high success rate. Follow the instructions for a smooth recovery that stays on the expected timeline.

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