A Step by Step Guide: The Procedure for Anterior Cervical De...

A Step by Step Guide: The Procedure for Anterior Cervical Decompression and Fusion

If you are suffering from arm pain or neck pain due to a degenerative condition, a herniated disc or an injury to the spine, it’s time to research the possibility of having a procedure for anterior cervical decompression and fusion. Though a more conservative treatment option may be preferred for patients whose condition and symptoms are mild, this surgery is an extremely successful solution for more advanced injuries in the cervical region of the spine. 

The purpose of the procedure is to first decompress the injured area by removing the damaged disc or releasing the pinched nerve. Then, a graft is added into the open space where the problem area was cleaned out. The fusion part of the procedure (which actually occurs during the healing process) increases strength and promotes stability in the damaged area of the spine. When vertebrae are allowed to be fused together, as they do during the recovery from a procedure for anterior cervical Decompression and fusion, the result is the elimination of excessive movement of the damaged vertebrae and therefore, a significant reduction in associated pain. 
Why the Anterior Approach?
Many patients are concerned with the prospect of having an incision made in the front of their neck, which is exactly what anterior cervical surgery requires. While it may seem counter productive to go through the front of the body to access the back, it is actually the preferred approach in some cases. The surgeon’s view is more obstructed by muscle, tissue and nerves when entering through an incision in the back of the body and therefore when appropriate, an anterior approach is preferred. Without having to push nerves or muscles to the side, an anterior approach can offer nearly direct access to the cervical vertebrae and the intervening discs.
A Step by Step Guide: The Procedure for Anterior Cervical Decompression and Fusion & Decompression
1. A patient suffering with neck or arm pain should be seen by Rothman Institute spinal specialists for a diagnosis and expert care.
2. Depending on the diagnosis, any possible non-operative treatment methods would be attempted with oversight from the doctors. If these more conservative approaches prove to be unhelpful, the doctors may recommend a procedure for anterior cervical decompression and  fusion that would utilize decompression in order to remedy the injured area and a bone graft to facilitate the fusion.
3. A surgery date will be set and in the appointments leading up to the procedure, the Rothman Institute physicians will fully prepare and educate the patient concerning the details of the procedure, the goal of the surgery, the steps to recovery and more.
4. On the day of surgery, the patient will be given anesthesia and if the surgeon is approaching the spine anteriorly, an incision in the front of the neck is made. After the initial incision, only one vestigial muscle must be cut in order for the surgeon to access the spine.
5. If there is a damaged disc or herniation, the problem area will be addressed and the surgeon will remove any elements that may be causing cord or nerve root pressure. This is the portion of the procedure referred to as “decompression.”
6. Once the damaged disc and tissue are cleaned out, a bone graft will be placed in the empty area between the vertebrae and fastened in place, usually with metal hardware, such as screws or rods. The graft will allow the bones to fuse together as the patient heals.
7. Most patients go home the day after their procedure for anterior cervical decompression and fusion, while others stay for 2 or 3 days in the hospital.
8. The initial recovery period can be expected to take between 4-6 weeks, but the entire fusion process may not finalize for 12-18 months. This “welding” of the bones together works during the natural healing process and offers the following benefits:
  • Prevents the collapse of the spine in the empty space between the vertebrae where the removal of damaged discs and/or other tissue took place
  • Fuses two vertebrae into a single, solid unit, which promotes stability and strength for the damages area of the spine
  • Uses a natural process to offer a long term solution to spine health
  • Prevents deformity of the spinal column
  • Provides the needed space for nerves to exit the spine without added pressure

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