When Discs Break Open
For most people, there is enough cushioning in the spine to allow for pain-free movement. In some people, however, age, arthritis, or degeneration can cause this cushioning to decrease. When spinal discs dry out, thin, swell, or bulge, sometimes these discs can break open. This is also known as a herniated disc and can cause neck pain, back pain, and chronic headaches. When this pain doesn’t improve, a surgeon may recommend anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) surgery. Here’s what patients need to know before undergoing the procedure.
1. Surgery is not the first line of treatment
Surgery is an effective treatment option. However, the procedure is not the first one that doctors recommend. Some people who have herniated discs don’t even experience any pain and may not need surgery. Before opting for ACDF, physicians will usually recommend a range of less invasive treatment options. Some of these include exercise therapy, physical therapy, medications, or steroid injections.
2. Recovery will take some time
All surgeries require a period of recovery. After ACDF surgery, most people can resume some normal activities, such as driving, within a couple of weeks. Most people need up to 6 weeks to get through the first initial phase of healing. After follow-up with the surgeon, the recovery process typically involves physical therapy to restore range of motion and reduce pain. The length of recovery varies based on age, health, and other factors.
3. The procedure has high success rates
All surgery comes with some risk, but ACDF has a very high success rate. Over 93% of people who undergo the procedure experience an improvement in arm pain. As many as 83% of patients experience significant improvement in neck pain.
What to expect during surgery
During ACDF surgery, a surgeon makes a small incision in the front of the neck. The physician then removes the damaged disc and fuses 2 or more bones in the cervical spine. This fusion creates stability for the spine. Though stability is good, this procedure can sometimes reduce a person’s range of motion. A spine surgeon can help advise patients on whether the benefits of surgery outweigh the risk of a reduced range of motion.
Is ACDF right for me?
A surgeon can help assess if surgery is the right treatment option. Typically, a person is a good candidate for surgery when other treatment options have failed, and pain is interfering with daily life. ACDF surgery can be successful for people who have pain, weakness, or tingling in the arms, have neck pain, have pinched spinal nerves, and who have signs of disc damage. Speak with a surgeon to learn more about the benefits of this minimally invasive surgery.