What is an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF)?

An ACDF, or an Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion is a surgical treatment that involves removing a degenerated or herniated cervical disk (in the neck) and fusing that segment of the cervical spine. The purpose of an ACDF, sometimes referred to as a cervical decompression, is used to restore cervical spine stability. Anterior means the surgery is done from the front of the neck; cervical, indicates where in the spine (neck area); discectomy, means to remove a disc; and fusion, is the process of permanently join two bones together to create stability. An anterior cervical discectomy and fusion relieves pressure on the spinal cord or nerve root and alleviates the corresponding weakness, pain, tingling and numbness. The expert orthopedic spine specialists at BICMD can give you the best and most up-to-date treatment advice or second opinion through a telemedicine visit. Our “best-in-class” experts have extensive successful experience in anterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgery.

Why would I need a cervical decompression (ACDF)?

The most common reason an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion is performed is to alleviate the symptoms of Cervical Spinal Stenosis.  ACDF can also be an excellent treatment for:

How is anterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgery performed?

It is important to find a skilled surgeon who has extensive experience in performing ACDF and we at BICMD can help. Our experts are the best of the best and we can help you find a surgeon who can perform this specialized surgery. The surgery is performed in a few steps:

  • The patient is put to sleep, using general anesthesia or cervical plexus anesthesia
  • A small incision is made in the front of the neck – This approach makes the disc easier to reach without disturbing the spinal cord and associated nerves.
  • The structures in front of the spine are carefully moved to the side (esophagus, trachea, blood vessels, etc.)
  • The diseased or damaged disc is located and removed.
  • Bone spurs are removed as well as diseased bone and scar tissue.
  • A bone graft can be placed between the two vertebrae using an allograft (donor tissue) or an autograft (from the patient’s own body)
  • A small titanium plate is placed on the two vertebrae to hold them together, allowing the bones and graft to heal and fuse.
  • The other structures are returned to their correct positions.
  • The small opening is closed with sutures.

What are the risks of cervical decompression or ACDF surgery?

Complications with this type of surgery are uncommon. However, as with any surgery, there are risks and potential complications that can occur including:

  • Wound hematoma (bleeding) or hemorrhage
  • Swallowing disturbance
  • Damage to the larynx, esophagus or trachea
  • Infection
  • Damage to the spinal cord or nerve roots
  • Failure of fusion (the bones do not fuse together)
  • Damage to the carotid or vertebral artery resulting in bleeding or stroke

How long does recovery take after ACDF – anterior cervical discectomy and fusion?

Your surgeon will give you a post-operative protocol that must be followed for the best outcome. The recovery from ACDF takes time, but most patients do very well. Surgery is typically minimally invasive and often patients are able to go home the same day. Activity may be limited for a few weeks following surgery and you may expect the following:

  • Limitation on amount or weight that can be lifted
  • A neck brace may be used and moving the neck forward or backward may be limited.
  • Lifting above the head will be limited for a time
  • Vigorous exercise is not allowed for the first few weeks
  • Pain medication should be taken as prescribed
  • Participate in physical therapy as prescribed
  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time

In general, patients in good health without any underlying conditions can expect to recover fully from Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion in about 3-4 months after surgery with a full return to normal activities at 6 months.

For more information and resources on anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) or a cervical decompression surgery, or to obtain a 2nd opinion before having a surgical procedure, please contact our orthopedic spine surgeons and specialists, by clicking on “Connect With a Doctor.” You will be connected to one of our orthopedic telemedicine experts through our state-of-the-art telemedicine platform.