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Cervical radiculopathy occurs when one of more of the nerves in the cervical (upper) vertebrae is compressed. When this happens, patients can have pain and numbness not just in the neck, but the pain can also extend down your arms and into the chest and shoulders. Sometimes, the pain becomes so severe that it affects the ability to hold or grasp something with your hands.
The condition can result from a ruptured disk, arthritis or other degenerative condition or injury. Most often, degenerative disease is the cause of pain in middle-aged and older adults, but in younger people, the pain is normally due to injury or accident.
Your orthopaedic surgeon will first try to treat this condition with a combination of anti-inflammatory medications – such as steroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, along with physical therapy to try to relieve pain and help increase mobility. However, if you have significant compression on the nerve that causes motor weakness, you may have to have surgery to relieve the pressure.
Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) helps to realign the spine, giving space for the nerve roots that travel from the spine to the arms, shoulders and chest, and limits movement in the damaged portion of the spine.
The surgery site is accessed from the front (anterior) of the neck. A small incision is made in the neck crease to minimize scaring. The surgeon removes the disc that is pressing on the nerves and stretches the area to help ensure that the space is maintained. A bone graft – normally from the patient’s hip – is inserted into the space, which helps stimulate bone healing and helps the fusion form into a solid bone. Once the graft is put in place, the two vertebrae beside the removed disc are fused together. In some cases, pins and plates are used to stabilize the site. Fusion, which eliminates movement between the discs, lessens pain in the region.
Learn What to Expect from Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF)
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