What is Anterior Cervical Decompression and Fusion?
Patients who have been diagnosed with any of the following cervical spine conditions may be candidates for anterior cervical decompression and fusion:
- A cervical fracture
- A herniated cervical disc
- Cervical radiculopathy or compressed nerve root due to a bone spur
- Degenerative disc disease
- Cervical myelopathy
As a spine surgeon, Dr. Braxton works closely with patients experiencing these conditions. Commonly, he will recommend the use of select non-operative treatments ahead of any surgical recommendations. In cases when expected results are not achieved non-surgically, or when a condition poses a risk to the spinal cord if left untreated, the anterior cervical decompression and fusion procedure is one of Dr. Braxton’s advanced surgical techniques of choice.
The purpose of the procedure is to address abnormal conditions of the cervical spine and restore spinal health. During the procedure:
- Disc herniation or bone spur growth is removed
- Compressed nerves are freed up
- Loss of disc space is restored
New bone is grafted in place of the treated areas and titanium plates are used to stabilize the disc. The healing process creates the fusion that allows for recovery from cervical pain and symptoms and a return to a patient’s preferred lifestyle.
What are the Pros and Cons of Anterior Cervical Decompression and Fusion?
Pros to anterior cervical decompression and fusion include:
- Good success rate, reported as high as 95%
- Normal cervical spinal health restoration
- Stabilization of the affected level of the spine
- Decreased pain and numbness
- Reduction of post-treatment deformities
- Limitation of wear and tear on nearby levels of the spine
- Need for future surgery to the level diminished
Cons to anterior cervical decompression and fusion include:
- Extensive bone work may lead to further back pain
- Recovery can be prolonged
- Muscle involvement may impact rehabilitation
- Inflammation may develop
- Possible irritation to nerves causing potential leg weakness
- Adjacent segments of the spine may be adversely impacted
How is Anterior Cervical Decompression and Fusion Performed?
The anterior cervical decompression and fusion is a procedure requiring general anesthesia. Dr. Braxton begins with an incision in the front of the neck providing access to the cervical spine and the degenerated disc is removed. The space between the vertebrae is restored and a spacer is put in place. Dr. Braxton will discuss the type of spacer material to be recommended with the patient; options may be synthetic, autologous from the patient’s own hip, or allograft bone from a cadaver. Plates and screws are used to provide initial stability to the operative site. Typically, patients are discharged within 6 – 24 hours following surgery. A cervical collar may be recommended for additional support during the early recovery period.
How Long Does Anterior Cervical Decompression and Fusion Surgery Take?
Depending on the patient’s overall health and the specifics of the diagnosis, anterior cervical decompression and fusion surgery can be complete within two to several hour however, a procedure of two or more discs or vertebrae requires more time. Patients are typically discharged within a day.
What is the Recovery Like After Anterior Cervical Decompression and Fusion?
Dr. Braxton will help patients understand what to expect for the recovery period. Most patients will experience:
- Reduced activity level
- A range between a few weeks to months for full recovery
Patients may experience some of these less common challenges, as well:
- Initial postoperative pain in the upper back, shoulders, or hips
- A lingering of the original pain, numbness or tingling
- An increase in the original pain before it gets better
- Difficulty swallowing, especially in the early recovery period
- Coughing or hoarseness of the voice
- Mental health impacts from the recovery pace
How to Sleep After Anterior Cervical Fusion?
Sleep is a key component of recovery from anterior cervical decompression and fusion. Some patients may prefer sleeping in a reclining position rather than lying down. Pillows should be used to prop the back and shoulders. A recliner or adjustable bed are also useful. Sleeping on the stomach is not recommended, rather a side or back position is best for the recovery period. Placing a pillow under the knees when sleeping on the back, or between the knees when sleeping on the side may be helpful. Contact Dr. Braxton if sleeping well becomes a challenge during the recovery period.