Neck pain is one of the most common types of pain people face on a daily basis, and many of these cases lead to neck surgery. The pain can present itself in many different ways, impacting any of the seven cervical vertebrae that connect the skull to the thoracic spine.
While the first thing you should do if you are experiencing neck pain is to talk to your doctor about natural solutions and treatments such as physical therapy, sometimes neck surgery is inevitable.
If physical therapy, medicine, and rest are not providing you with any relief, it may be time to discuss surgery. The most common type of surgery to relieve neck pain is anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, also referred to as cervical fusion, or ACDF surgery. There are many different causes of neck pain, some of which come with age. Some of the most common reasons to seriously consider a cervical fusion include:
- Damage to one or more discs
- If the discs or surrounding structures are irritating the nerve root
- To stabilize the cervical spine
- If the spinal cord is compressed and needs to be relieved
Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion: What is It?
Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) involves the removal of a damaged or problematic disc in the cervical spine. In many cases, the patient’s neck pain is caused by a nerve that is putting pressure or ‘pinching’ one or more herniated discs.
Your surgeon performs ACDF surgery by making an incision in the front of the neck, which is called anterior cervical discectomy. Typically, we perform a cervical fusion in conjunction with ACDF surgery to ensure the spine remains stable after we remove the damaged disc. Once the surgeon has made the incision, he is then able to access and remove the herniated disc and any bone spurs that are causing discomfort. Once the disc is taken out, the nerve root or spinal cord is decompressed, and a spacer is inserted to fill in the empty disc space. Spacers can be bone from the patient’s hip, a titanium cage, a synthetic, or a cadaveric allograft bone.
What to Expect During and After Neck Surgery
ACDF surgery is a relatively safe procedure, but it is important to note that the recovery process from this kind of neck surgery will differ from person to person. The long-term benefits of a cervical fusion are well-known, but there are some short-term challenges of which patients must be aware. Some of these inconveniences include:
- Reduced activity levels
- Pain with movement
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hoarseness or coughing
- Depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues
Some patients can return to work following ACDF surgery within several days or a week, whereas others require physical therapy that will continue for two or three months.
Risks and Complications of Neck Surgery
All surgery comes with risk, and this one is no different. There are several risks and potential complications that may occur following ACDF surgery, such as:
- Damage to the carotid artery, leading to a stroke or excessive bleeding
- Damage to the laryngeal artery, leading to hoarseness
- Damage to the laryngeal nerve, leading to trouble swallowing
- Damage to the esophagus or trachea
- Complications of the graft or plate
- Damage to nearby spinal cord nerve roots
Alternative Treatments for Neck Pain
In most cases, we only perform neck surgery like ACDF after all other alternatives have been exhausted. If you are still experiencing neck pain after taking medications, physical therapy, getting spinal injections, or resting, it may be time to consider ACDF surgery.
We have seen firsthand how ACDF can treat bulging and herniated discs or degenerative disc disease. If you suffer from neck pain and have tried all other options, ACDF surgery may be for you. Neck pain should never go untreated, as it could lead to more serious complications such as arthritis, infection, myofascial pain and spasm, further disc herniation, or degenerative disc disease.
If you live in Vero Beach or the surrounding areas, we are accepting new patients. A consultation with our orthopedic spine surgeon, Dr. Atwater, will outline several options for you, and our team will provide you with all the necessary support to help you make a well-informed decision.