Neck pain is caused by a variety of factors. It can range from relatively benign causes (like sleeping in a poor position at night) to the severe (such as an accident or injury). When you experience neck pain that spreads into your arms, or sensational feelings of numbness and tingling, there could be a serious issue in your spine.
In some cases, damage to your spinal discs could be the source of your pain. When the cushions in your neck degenerate, tear or rupture they can place pressure on your nerves – leading to increased sensitivity. You may need to have these discs removed through an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF).
Dr. Todd H. Lanman, leading spinal neurosurgeon and founder of the Advanced Disc Replacement Spinal Restoration Center, specializes in helping people identify the causes of pain in their neck and spine. In each patient’s customized treatment plan, Dr. Lanman’s goal is always to treat neck pain appropriately, empowering them to live comfortably without sacrificing their range of motion. Learn more about what an ACDF entails and what patients experience before and after surgery.
Your spine is made up of 33 bones that are broken into multiple sections. The top section, in your neck, is known as your cervical spine. Each of the bones (vertebrae) in your spine is protected on each side by a small cushion, known as a spinal disc. These discs work as shock absorbers when your vertebrae move. This is why you can bend over or twist around without feeling pain.
Occasionally, these discs can get damaged. They can break or the vertebrae will push them out of place. This can create multiple sources of pain for patients. The vertebrae can start rubbing together which may increase your pain. Your disc could also push into your spinal nerves, creating sensitivity that spreads into your shoulders and arms.
When a disc creates problems in your cervical spine, Dr. Lanman may recommend an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. One of the best ways to understand this procedure is to break down each of the words related to it.
The anterior cervical discectomy is the process of removing a damaged or broken disc that is causing pain for the patient. Anterior refers to where the incision is located. Dr. Lanman will enter through the front of your neck, which gives him easier access to your spine. The prefix ante means “front” or “before.”
In surgery, the suffix -ectomy refers to a removal. This means a cervical discectomy means the removal of the cervical disc. These discs are protective cushions that protect each spinal vertebrae – in this case referring to the part of the spine near your neck.
With this information, the medical terms used to describe an anterior cervical discectomy become clearer. Dr. Lanman is simply removing a cervical disc through the front of the neck.
The final term related to the ACDF procedure is fusion. When Dr. Lanman removes a cervical disc, the two vertebrae risk rubbing against each other because there isn’t any protective padding to keep them apart. Through spinal fusion, the two vertebrae are connected to become one. By fusing them, the vertebrae cannot move independently and rub against each other, which can be the cause of significant pain.
Through this surgical procedure, patients that previously experienced severe discomfort can take steps to heal and enjoy life with reduced pain.
Dr. Lanman will provide clear instructions on what you should and should not do ahead of your ACDF. One of the most important steps is to stop smoking. Smoking decreases blood circulation, which can slow the healing process, and prevents bone growth, which can increase your risk of a failed spinal fusion.
There are a few other ways you can prepare for your ACDF procedure:
Do not eat or drink after midnight before the procedure unless Dr. Lanman tells you otherwise.
Shower before arriving and wear comfortable loose-fitting clothing.
Wear flat shoes with closed backs. Do not arrive in heels or flip-flops.
Bring a list of medications you take and any allergies you have.
There may be some additional steps you need to take when preparing for surgery depending on the medications you take. Make sure Dr. Lanman has a clear picture of your medical history and current prescriptions before you schedule an ACDF.
ACDF is considered major spinal surgery; however, most patients who undergo this procedure can recover at home the same day they arrive. Dr. Lanman’s spinal center, the Advanced Disc Replacement Spinal Restoration Center, is outfitted with the latest technology required to perform your ACDF. This means you don’t have to check into the hospital and can feel comfortable in your treatment location.
Dr. Lanman will use general anesthesia during the procedure and it usually takes one to two hours for him to remove the affected disc and fuse the vertebrae. After the operation is complete, you will be moved to a recovery room to allow the anesthesia to wear off. Once you are awake and the medical staff confirms the surgery went well, you will be released to go home.
By working with a professional like Dr. Lanman, you can complete your ACDF in less than a day. From there, you can return home and focus on the recovery process.
While surgery is a major part of your pain-relief process, the recovery period can be just as important to ensure the fusion heals correctly and you can live without pain. Knowing what to expect after your ACDF can help you create a recovery plan. There are a few best practices associated with ACDF to keep in mind as you recover.
You will not be able to return to work immediately. If your job requires any sort of physical labor you will need to wait six to eight weeks before you can return.
Do not lift anything that is more than five to 10 pounds in the weeks after surgery. For reference, a bag of flour is around five pounds.
Limit how much you twist, lift, push, and pull for several weeks after your ACDF. However, walking with your neck held straight is safe and beneficial for healing.
Limit your diet to soft foods for two weeks after surgery. This is because your neck needs time to heal.
Avoid driving if you are taking opioids for pain. However, you can resume driving immediately once you switch to Tylenol or stop taking pain medication.
Dr. Lanman may give you specific recovery directions based on your lifestyle. If you are concerned about any hobbies or activities, ask about them before your procedure. You may have to delay participating in these activities while you recover.
Every patient is different, which means you may take a little longer to recover from your ACDF procedure. However, there is a general recovery time that most patients work through.
The first two weeks are usually the most important for patients to recover. This is when you need to eat soft foods and avoid any physical exertion.
The next four to six weeks continue your recovery process, and you can start to incorporate smaller movements and activities.
Within 10 weeks you will likely start to feel like you are healed.
That said, you might not be able to resume all of your normal activities for a few months after surgery. You cannot rush recovery. If you try to push yourself more than your body can handle, you may damage the incision or the fused vertebrae, creating long-term complications.
While ACDF is a safe procedure and Dr. Lanman is an experienced doctor, there is always a chance of complications with any surgery. A few rare, but potential complications include:
Infection at the incision site
Bleeding or blood vessel damage
Potential speech disturbance or issues swallowing
Damage to the spinal cord
Failure to create a fusion through bone graft healing
Damage to the trachea or esophagus
When you wake up for surgery, Dr. Lanman’s medical staff will check for any complications. If you are in good health, you can return home. You will receive clear aftercare instructions to reduce the chances of negative side effects, along with guidance on what to do if you experience any of these issues.
One of the main benefits of ACDF is the reduction of pain, tingling, and numbness in your arms and neck. Patients who undergo successful surgeries report reduced pain and high comfort levels. They are able to resume some of their favorite activities and (when fully recovered) can work without feeling pain.
Every patient experiences different levels of success. You may notice some pain after surgery or it may take longer for you to notice the benefits of your ACDF.
Dr. Lanman approaches neck pain on a case-by-case basis. If you experience pain and numbness in your neck and arms, he will first recommend non-surgical treatments. These may include physical therapy exercises or hot and cold therapy. Dr. Lanman may also recommend pain medication to treat the issue. However, if these options do not work, you may be a candidate for ACDF.
Your candidacy depends on where the disc is located and whether spinal fusion will help alleviate your discomfort. Dr. Lanman will run several tests to determine which discs are affected and how the issue should be treated.
If you currently live with neck pain, numbness, or tingling in your arms or shoulders, make an appointment at the Advanced Disc Replacement Spinal Restoration Center. Dr. Lanman and his partner, Dr. Jason Cuéllar, are some of the best spinal surgeons in the country with locations in Beverly Hills and Miami. Request a consultation today and take the first steps toward healing and living a life without pain.
Your life awaits. Schedule your consultation at one of our premier locations today.
FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA | @ADRSPINE