Anterior Cervical Discectomy

Why you may need an anterior cervical discectomy

 An anterior cervical discectomy is performed to alleviate arm and neck pain caused by a cervical herniated disk or degenerative disk with an osteophyte(bone spur). A cervical herniated disk occurs when a portion of the nucleus pulposis (soft part of disk) ruptures through the annulus(tough outer covering) of the disk and an osteophyte occurs as a means to repair a degenerating disk. If the herniated disk or osteophyte compresses the spinal cord or a nerve root you maybe best treated with an anterior cervical discectomy followed by fusion. 

In order to relieve the pressure caused by the displaced disk material the surgeon will remove the ruptured disk or osteophyte. Performing the anterior cervical discectomy followed by fusion will decompress the spinal cord or nerve root and restore the normal height to the damaged disk. Maintaining disk height is crucial to maintaining the normal anatomy of your spine. 

 What happens during an anterior cervical discectomy? 

 After making a small skin incision in a skin crease at the front of the neck dissection is performed to the front of the spine. Flouroscopic xray is utilized to accurately locate the disk that has failed and is compressing the spinal cord or a nerve root. With the benefit of an operating microscope or magnifying loupes the surgeon works through the soft tissue of the neck and then through the diseased disk. Once the herniated disk or osteophyte has been removed working through the disk a synthetic cage filled with bone graft, specifically sized and shaped to maintain good spine anatomy is placed. 

With the nerve root or spinal cord decompressed and the anatomy of the cervical spine restored a titanium plate is frequently placed to facilitate normal anatomy while the spine heals. With the surgery being performed behind the esophagus and trachea patients experience some discomfort swallowing or speaking. 

 What should I expect after the surgery? 

 Some fullness in the neck with uncomfortable swallowing and hoarseness is experienced by many the the first few days after surgery. Sitting up relieves much of the fullness and soft food eases the swallowing. Tightness across the back of the neck responds nicely to heat or ice. A soft foam collar or a gentle neck rub from a friend will also ease neck tightness. Most patients need minimal medications during recovery. 

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