Sometimes, pain and weakness just don’t go away with standard, non-invasive approaches such as medicine and physical therapy. When the pain associated with a certain condition is non-responsive to the traditional treatment approaches, surgical intervention may be necessary. This is especially true for those individuals who may be suffering from a bulging or herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, or consistent neck and/or arm pain.
Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, also known as ACDF, is a procedure wherein a herniated or degenerative disc in the neck (the cervical area) is removed. The surgeon will approach the spine from the front, working through the throat area. He will remove the affected disc, and then fuse together the vertebrae above and below the space where the disc was removed. While this sounds complicated, patients are typically released to go home the same day and the recovery time takes anywhere from four to six weeks.
ACDF can be performed to relieve the pressure placed on neural structures by a herniated disc or bone spur that is irritating the nerves and causing pain in the neck and/or the arms. Patients may also realize a loss of coordination, weakness, or numbness in the arms and fingers. When pressure from the affected disc or discs is placed on the spinal cord, it can also affect most of the nerves in the rest of the body, creating pain in other areas, such as the chest, the abdomen, and the legs.
The ACDF procedure allows for the removal of all or part of a disc and the insertion of a bone graft to replace that disc.
A discectomy, or cutting out of a disc, can be done anywhere along the spine, from the neck to the lower back region. In some cases, more than one disc may be removed. After the disc is removed, the surgeon must fill the open disc space with a bone graft. This will serve as a bridge between the disc above the space and the disc below, creating a spinal fusion.
The bone graft and other vertebrae are immobilized and held together with metal plates and screws. Post-surgery, the body will begin its healing process, and new bone cells will begin to form around the graft. Within three to six months, the bone graft should join the adjacent vertebrae to form one solid piece of bone. The bone may even grow around the plates and screws.
How do you know if you are a candidate for such a procedure? If you have had certain diagnostic tests that evidence a herniated or degenerative disc, if you are experiencing arm pain that is worse than neck pain, and/or if you have symptoms that have not improved despite medication and physical therapy, a consultation with your doctor may be in order to determine if you should undergo an ACDF procedure.
ACDF can be helpful in the treatment of bulging and herniated discs and with degenerative disc disease. Typically, most herniated discs heal on their own accord within a few months of medicinal or physical therapy measures. If surgery appears to be your next option, be sure to discuss all benefits and risks with your physician. Statistics show, however, that only about 10 percent of those individuals with herniated disc problems present with enough appreciable pain after six weeks of non-surgical treatment methods to consider surgery.