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ACDF: What to Expect

Prior to Surgery

  • Talk to your doctor about any medications/vitamins/herbs you are taking as you may need to stop certain ones before surgery.
  • Let your doctor know if you could be or are pregnant.
  • Discuss any possible bleeding disorders or other medical conditions that you may have.
  • You will have blood samples taken in case you need a blood transfusion.
  • You may be asked to stop taking aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), Clopidogrel (Plavix), warfarin (Coumadin), and other blood thinners.
  • Ask your doctor which drugs you should still take on the day of the surgery.
  • Do not smoke. This will help you to recover quicker.

On the day of the surgery

  • You will usually be asked not to drink or eat anything after midnight the night before the surgery.
  • Take the drugs your doctor told you to take with a small sip of water.
  • Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to arrive at the hospital.
  • Wear comfortable clothing.

After surgery

Most patients will remain in the hospital for one to two days.

  • The surgical site in your neck will be sore for a few days.
  • You will be encouraged to walk as soon as you are able as this will help speed your recovery.
  • You may need to wear a soft or rigid collar for four to six weeks. This helps provide support to the surgical site.
  • You will gradually begin range of motion exercises and undergo physical therapy to help with your recovery.
  • While most patients feel better within a couple of weeks, it will take up to four months before you will be able to return to full activities.

Recovery: what to expect in the next few weeks

Most patients will feel better within a couple of weeks; however, do not lift, push or pull any heavy objects until after your doctor says it is OK. Healing from a fusion can take up to a year. The bone graft must be incorporated and fuse the vertebrae together. You will have x-rays at intervals to check on the healing and during that time your activities will be restricted.

Anterior Cervical Discectomy & Fusion Q&A

What do these procedures involve?

Your surgeon will make a small incision in your neck crease. 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 is inserted into the space to stimulate bone healing and to help the fusion form into a solid bone. It also increases the space for the nerve to leave the spine. Once the graft is put in place, the two vertebrae beside the removed disk are fused together. In some cases, pins and plates are used to stabilize the site.

How long is the procedure?

It depends on the complexity of the repair and how many vertebrae are fused.

What is the recovery time?

Recovery is patient dependent, but allow for four months for full recovery and up to a year for the bone graft to completely heal. Until then, patients have to avoid certain activities. Your doctor can advise what you can expect based on your health status and on your expected surgical repair.

How do I know if this procedure will help my pain?

Removing the problem disk and fusing the vertebrae in place helps in two ways – it restores alignment in your spine and maintains space between disks so that your nerves leaving the region are not being compressed. You will have decreased pain and numbness.