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Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion

Last updated Feb. 21, 2018

Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) is a surgical procedure that is performed to help relieve nerve compression caused by a slipped (herniated) or degenerated disc in the cervical (neck portion) spine.


Background Information:

What are the other Names for the Procedure?

  • ACDF (Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion)

What is Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure?

  • Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) is a surgical procedure that is performed to help relieve nerve compression caused by a slipped (herniated) or degenerated disc in the cervical (neck portion) spine
  • A disc or an intervertebral disc is the tissue that is sandwiched between two vertebral bones acting as a shock absorber
  • The damaged intervertebral disc is removed and a graft is inserted in between the vertebral bones to help them fuse together

What part of the Body does the Procedure involve?

The Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure involves the tissues in the front of the neck and the neck vertebrae, along with the intervertebral disc.

Why is the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure Performed?

The Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure is performed for the following reasons

  • A slipped intervertebral disc can press down on the nerves located below its level. This can cause pain, discomfort, and loss of function
  • The Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure helps to relieve the nerve compression in such situations, as well as to stabilize the affected portion of the spine

What are some Alternative Choices for the Procedure?

An Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure is performed only when medication and physical therapy are inadequate to control the symptoms. Hence, generally there are no alternatives to the procedure.

What are the Recent Advances in the Procedure?

The removed disc may be replaced with an artificial disc device in place of a bony graft.

What is the Cost of performing the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure?

The cost of Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure depends on a variety of factors, such as the type of your health insurance, annual deductibles, co-pay requirements, out-of-network and in-network of your healthcare providers and healthcare facilities.

In many cases, an estimate may be provided before the procedure. The final amount depends upon the findings during the surgery/procedure and post-operative care that is necessary.

When do you need a Second Opinion, prior to the Procedure?

  • It is normal for a patient to feel uncomfortable and confused by the information regarding an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure and on what needs to be done
  • If the patient needs further reassurance or a second opinion, a physician will almost always assist and also recommend another physician, if required
  • Also, if the procedure involves multiple surgeries or has many alternatives, the patient may take a second opinion to understand and choose the best one. They can also choose to approach another physician independently

What are some Helpful Resources?

http://www.mayfieldclinic.com/PE-ACDF.htm#.VGoNvGdgpvk (accessed on 05/17/2015)

http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/back-surgery/acdf-anterior-cervical-discectomy-and-fusion (accessed on 05/17/2015)

Prior to Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure:

How is the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure Performed?

The Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure may be performed under general anesthesia.

  • The surgeon makes an incision on the side of the neck
  • The muscles, wind and food pipe, and other tissues in front of the cervical spine are pushed to the side so that the surgeon is able to visualize the vertebral bones and discs
  • The surgeon then identifies the diseased disc and removes most of it
  • Additionally, any bony spurs (osteophytes) arising from the vertebral bones are also removed to help relieve nerve compression
  • The surgeon then places a bony graft in the cleared disc space to aid the eventual fusion between the two vertebral bones above and below the disc space
  • The procedure may be repeated again if multiple disc spaces have been affected
  • The displaced tissues are again set in place and the skin incision is sutured

Where is the Procedure Performed?

An Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure is performed in a hospital.

Who Performs the Procedure?

The Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure is performed by any of the following medical personnel, with or without assistance from an anesthesiologist:

  • A spinal surgeon experienced in performing the ACDF procedure
  • A neurosurgeon
  • An orthopedic surgeon

How long will the Procedure take?

The procedure may take anywhere from 1-3 hours to perform.

What do you need to tell your Physician before the Procedure?

It is very important to provide the following information to your healthcare provider. This enables your healthcare provider in assessing the risks for the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure and helps avoid unnecessary complications.

  • Provide a complete list of medications you are currently taking to your physician. This information is useful for a variety of reasons. For example, it can help your healthcare provider prevent complications due to a drug interaction
  • If you are allergic to any specific medication or food items
  • If you are taking blood thinners such as aspirin, warfarin, herbal supplements, or any other such medications
  • If you or your family members have a history of bleeding disorders, or if there is a tendency to bleed more than normal
  • If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, chest pains, or have previously suffered from a heart attack
  • If you have ever been diagnosed with blood clots in your leg (deep vein thrombosis) or lung (embolism of lung)
  • If you have a history of frequent bone fractures (this may affect bone-healing if bones are involved as part of your procedure)
  • A list of all previous surgical procedures you have undergone, for example: Removal of appendix, gallbladder, or any other part, of your body; surgical repair of any body part, such as hernia repair, perforation of bowel wall, etc.

What Preparations are needed, prior to the Procedure?

  • The physician may evaluate the individual’s medical history to gain a comprehensive knowledge of the overall health status of the patient including information related to the medications that are currently being taken
  • Some medications increase a person’s chances of bleeding and it may be recommended to discontinue them for a period of time before the procedure is performed
  • Blood tests may be performed to determine if there is a bleeding tendency or any other medical conditions that prevents the person from undergoing the procedure
  • Inform the physician if you are allergic to any local anesthetics, lidocaine, etc.
  • Avoid application of any cosmetics, deodorant, or topical medicines on the area prior to the procedure
  • It is advisable to quit smoking and the use of any nicotine based products for a while before the surgery
  • Consumption of alcoholic drinks must also be avoided for a period of time, as instructed
  • The patient must avoid eating or drinking at least 8 hours prior to the surgical procedure, depending on when the procedure is arranged
  • For individuals suffering from diabetes, it is important that the blood sugar stays within the normal range; if not, their diabetologist may have to control blood sugar by recommending insulin and/or a combination of oral medicines

What is the Consent Process before the Procedure?

A physician will request your consent for Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure using an Informed Consent Form.

Consent for the Procedure: A “consent” is your approval to undergo a procedure. A consent form is signed after the risks and benefits of the procedure, and alternative treatment options, are discussed. This process is called informed consent.

You must sign the forms only after you are totally satisfied by the answers to your questions. In case of minors and individuals unable to personally give their consent, the individual’s legal guardian or next of kin, shall give their consent for the procedure.

What Tests are needed, before the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure?

Before an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure, the patient has to undergo certain tests such as:

  • MRI or CT scan of the neck
  • Chest X-ray
  • EKG
  • Routine blood and urine analysis

What are some Questions for your Physician?

Some of the basic questions that you might ask your physician are as follows:

  • What is an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure?
  • Why is this procedure necessary? How will it help?
  • How soon should I get it done? Is it an emergency?
  • Who are the medical personnel involved in this procedure?
  • Where is the procedure performed?
  • What are the risks while performing the procedure?
  • What are the complications that might take place during recovery?
  • How long will it take to recover? When can I resume normal work?
  • How many such procedures have you (the physician) performed?
  • Are there any follow-up tests, periodic visits to the healthcare facility required after the procedure?
  • What are the costs involved?

During the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure:

What kind of Anesthesia is given, during the Procedure?

General anesthesia by injection and inhalation is administered for this procedure.

How much Blood will you lose, during the Procedure?

Generally, the blood loss during an uncomplicated Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure is not significant.

What are the possible Risks and Complications during the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure?

There are general factors that increase the risk of getting complications during surgery and they include:

  • Obesity: Generally, the greater the degree of obesity, the greater the surgical risk
  • Smoking: The longer the smoking history (in pack years smoked), the greater the surgical risk
  • Advancing age
  • Poorly controlled diabetes, as evidenced by a high hemoglobin A1c and a high fasting glucose
  • Poorly functioning kidney, as evidenced by increased BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and blood creatinine
  • Poorly functioning liver, as evidenced by increased blood liver function tests
  • Hypertension (increased blood pressure), especially if it is poorly controlled
  • Poor nutritional status (malnutrition with mineral and vitamin deficiencies)
  • Poor lung function, as evidenced by abnormal lung function tests
  • History of bleeding disorders
  • Longstanding illness, such as autoimmune disorders and chronic infections
  • Poor immune system due to a variety of causes

The possible risks or complications that may arise during the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgery are:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Infection within the surgical wound
  • Anesthetic complications
  • Accidental injury to the nerves, spinal cord, wind pipe, or food pipe

What Post-Operative Care is needed at the Healthcare Facility after the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure?

  • After the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure, the patients are sent to an area of the hospital called the postoperative recovery area (or PACU)
  • The patient’s blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration cycle shall be closely monitored. Any additional pain associated with the procedure will be treated
  • Individuals are usually discharged from the hospital on the same day or after an overnight stay, if there are no complications

After the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure:

What are the possible Risks and Complications after the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure?

The possible risks and complications that may arise after an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure are:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Infection within surgical wound
  • Persistence of the symptoms
  • Inadequate healing of the bone graft

What is the Prognosis after the Surgery?

The prognosis after an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure is generally good. The surgery helps in symptom relief in a vast majority of individuals.

When do you need to call your Physician?

Do contact your physician if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • Worsening pain and swelling around the surgical wound
  • Bleeding or fluid drainage from the surgical wound
  • The occurrence of any symptom that causes uneasiness such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal swelling, or constipation
  • Signs of an infection
  • Headache, muscle aches
  • Fever, feeling sick
  • Dizziness
  • Complications associated with prescription medications used in treatment

What Post-Operative Care is needed at Home after the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure?

At home, the following post-operative care is recommended after an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion procedure:

  • Slowly resume regular/daily activities as early as possible, which aids in faster recovery
  • Use a heat pad or warm compress to relieve pain due to the incision
  • It may be necessary to wear a neck brace or collar during recovery and to avoid forceful neck movements
  • Physical therapy and neck exercises should be done as advised
  • Maintain good posture and avoid lifting of heavy weights. Avoid sitting for prolonged time period
  • Avoid driving for two to four weeks after the procedure
  • Resume showering a few days after surgery, and keep the wound clean and dry. Avoid taking baths until the surgical wound is completely healed. Gently wash the surgical wound with mild or unscented soap
  • Replace the dressings on the surgical wound after showering
  • Complete the course of prescribed medication under advice of the physician
  • Take antibiotic medication to help combat or prevent infection, per your physician’s advice
  • Avoid taking nonprescription medications such as aspirin. However, individuals may take acetaminophen to relieve pain (per the physician’s advice)

How long does it normally take to fully recover, from the Procedure?

A complete recovery from the procedure may take up to four weeks or longer.

Additional Information:

What happens to tissue (if any), taken out during the Procedure?

Any tissue that is removed is disposed as per standard medical procedures. However, in some cases, the surgeon may recommend a pathological examination of the tissue.

When should you expect results from the pathologist regarding tissue taken out, during the Procedure?

Usually, a pathologist does not get involved in the care of the patient. However, if a tissue is received for further lab analysis, then:

  • The tissue removed is processed in the laboratory under a pathologist's supervision
  • Slide(s) are prepared once the tissue is processed and is examined by a pathologist and a pathology report issued
  • Depending on the complexity of the case, issue of the report may take anywhere between 72 hours to a week's time

Who will you receive a Bill from, after the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure?

It is important to note that the number of bills that the patient may receive depends on the arrangement the healthcare facility has with the physician and other healthcare providers.

Sometimes, the patient may get a single bill that includes the healthcare facility and the consultant physician charges. Sometimes, the patient might get multiple bills depending on the healthcare provider involved. For instance, the patient may get a bill from:

  • A hospital
  • An anesthesiologist (if anesthesia was administered)
  • An orthopedic surgeon, or a spine surgeon, or a neurosurgeon
  • A pathologist (if tissue is sent for analysis)

The patient is advised to inquire and confirm the type of billing, before the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgical procedure is performed.

Thanks and Gratitude:

We sincerely acknowledge and thank Dr. Douglas J. Jones for reviewing the article. His valuable input and feedback has helped enrich the contents of this article.

Douglas J. Jones, MD FACS
Board Certified General Surgeon and Faculty Member
University of Illinois, College of Medicine at Urbana-Champaign
506 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana, IL 61801, USA

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: May 28, 2015
Last updated: Feb. 21, 2018