Neck Pain Is No Laughing Matter
Everyone gets occasional neck pain, which lasts for a few days. However, there should be cause for concern when the pain is chronic. Over time, the pain turns to stiffness, limited range of motion (ROM), and even arm pain. These symptoms can stop patients from working and enjoying life. There are several ways to get relief, but at some point, a doctor may suggest anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF).
What causes chronic neck pain?
Doctors can usually trace temporary neck pain to a muscular issue. Chronic pain, however, is almost always spinal-related. The cervical spine consists of 7 vertebrae. Between the pairs of vertebrae are fibrous discs. These discs help with shock absorption while promoting movement and balancing the head’s weight. Chronic neck pain often happens due to disc damage. Some patients have a herniated disc, where the inner nucleus ruptures the disc’s outer wall, pressing on nearby nerves. Another reason is degenerative disc disease. The disc wears out over time, losing elasticity and reducing the disc space, causing inflammation.
Is it time for ACDF?
Cervical spine conditions that cause chronic neck pain are not inevitable. However, risk factors include age, previous injury, smoking, and overuse. A doctor will usually assess the neck using X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). From there, treatment includes pain medication, regenerative medicine, bracing, and physical therapy. These options are valuable, but if the symptoms have not improved, ACDF surgery can help. Surgery can also benefit patients with significant arm pain and weakness.
What should you expect during surgery?
ACDF aims to remove the damaged disc and insert a graft or synthetic replacement. The bones will then fuse to form a solid piece, reducing pain and stiffness. An orthopedic surgeon will access the discs from the throat. Using this route means the surgeon will avoid the spine and neck muscles. The patient will be placed under general anesthesia. The surgeon makes an incision at the throat, then gently moves the trachea and esophagus to access the spine. The damaged disc is removed, and the bone graft or artificial disc fills the space. A metal plate and screws help hold the bone in place.
Recovery and success
After surgery, the patient will need some recovery time. In some cases, the minimally invasive approach means the patient can leave the hospital the same day. The first 2 weeks require post-operative care. The patient may wear a brace to restrict movement. From there, ACDF can take a further 6 weeks of recovery, which includes physical therapy. Over several months, the bones fuse into a solid piece. On average, ACDF patients have high success and satisfaction rates, even several years after surgery.
The choice is yours
The surgeon can only recommend surgery as a treatment option. The patient must decide if ACDF surgery is the best course of action. Most cases see success with non-surgical treatment, but this can take time. If checks show significant damage, which does not respond to treatment, ACDF surgery can help.