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In Plain English: What to Expect: Anterior Cervical Discectomy & Fusion

Do you have significant weakness in your hand or arm? Have you undergone diagnostic tests (MRI, CT, and myelogram) that reveal you have a herniated or degenerative disc? If the answer to both questions is “yes,” then you may be a good candidate for anterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgery. Talk to your spine surgeon to see if this spinal fusion surgery is right for you. If anterior cervical discectomy and fusion is recommended, then read on to find out what you can expect before, during, and after the procedure.

Before Anterior Cervical Discectomy & Fusion Surgery
Preparation before the procedure typically begins about one to two weeks before surgery. You will be instructed to stop taking all non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (Advil, Motrin, Aleve, etc.) and blood thinners (Coumadin, Plavix, etc.). Additionally, you should stop smoking, chewing tobacco, or drinking alcohol because these habits can cause healing problems. Immediately before your surgery, an intravenous (IV) line will be placed in your arm and you will be given anesthesia to put you to sleep.

During Anterior Cervical Discectomy & Fusion Surgery
After you enter the operating room, you will be placed so that you are lying on your back on the operating table. If a fusion is planned and your own bone will be used, the spine surgeon may make a hip incision to obtain a bone graft. Dr. Blecher generally utilizes bone from the vertebrae thus sparing a separate incision and pain. An incision will be made on the left or right side of your neck. Muscles in your neck will be moved to the side and your trachea, esophagus, and arteries will be retracted – all so that your surgeon has a clear view of the affected vertebrae and discs. Pieces of the damaged disc are removed to gain access to ligament that runs behind the vertebrae. This ligament and any disc material or bone spurs pressing on the spinal nerves are removed. The foramen, through which the spinal nerve exits, is enlarged. The bone graft is then placed; many times a spacer is placed as well between the vertebrae and secured with a metal plate and screws. The wound is then closed.

After Anterior Cervical Discectomy & Fusion Surgery
Most patients who undergo anterior cervical discectomy fusion surgery at one or two vertebral levels are able to go home from the hospital the same day. Dr. Blecher performs most anterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgeries out of the University Surgicenter, where patients go home a few short hours after their surgery. Some patients may require to undergo these procedures in a hospital setting. As you are discharged, you will receive a prescription for a narcotic medication to help relieve the pain in your neck from the surgical procedure. Between one and four weeks in your anterior cervical discectomy recovery, you may experience hoarseness, a sore throat, or difficulty swallowing, but these symptoms will gradually reduce over time. You will need to schedule a follow-up consultation with your spine surgeon about two weeks after surgery. X-rays are generally used for follow up and to make sure the fusion takes place and the instrumentation is well maintained.




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