What is Anterior Cervical Decompression?

Anterior cervical decompression is a surgical procedure performed to relieve pressure on the nerve roots exiting the spinal column or on the spinal cord itself. This can help relieve the pain, numbness, tingling, and weakness caused by nerve compression. An anterior cervical decompression is usually accompanied by a surgical fusion procedure, which allows two vertebrae to fuse together after the decompression to add stability to the spine.

Why Is It Done?

Anterior cervical decompression with fusion helps to relieve symptoms arising from pressure on the spinal cord and/or on nerve roots. When conservative measures such as medications and physical therapy fail to achieve the desired relief, anterior cervical decompression and fusion offers an alternative treatment option.

Procedure

An incision is made in the lower portion of the front of the neck in order to access the spine. Blood vessels and organs such as the trachea and esophagus are carefully moved aside to allow this access. The herniated or diseased disc is then removed along with any bone spurs that may be causing nerve compression. A portion of the posterior longitudinal ligament that extends along the backside of the vertebral bodies may also be removed.

Once the disc, bone spurs, and ligament are removed, a fusion is performed by inserting a bone graft or titanium cage into the gap. Over time, the bone graft fuses with the vertebrae above and below to create a healthy bone mass. In some cases, a metal plate with may be screwed over the area to create additional strength and support. The fusion may require several months to be completed.

Benefits

Anterior cervical decompression removes pressure from the nerve roots and spinal cord in order to relieve neck pain and other symptoms. For some patients, this is their only solution for eliminating debilitating neck pain, weakness, and tingling.

Risks

As with all surgeries, anterior cervical decompression and fusion has some risks. For example, the bone graft inserted during the fusion might not fuse properly. This complication arises most often with smokers and those who fail to restrict neck movement after surgery. People with certain medical conditions such as diabetes or who use steroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are also at higher risk. As a result, the fusion procedure may need to be repeated or a second fusion surgery performed posteriorly may become necessary.

Other potential complications of anterior cervical decompression and fusion include nerve damage, infection, excessive bleeding, damage to the trachea or esophagus, or the formation of a blood clot. There may also be a negative reaction to the anesthesia. Plus, in some cases, anterior cervical decompression and fusion may not completely relieve the symptoms. It is important to discuss these issues with your surgeon before undergoing the procedure.

Tom Wascher M.D. will review your imaging studies free of charge or, if needed, provide you with a second opinion. He has performed over 1,800 cervical surgeries during his career and wants to see that you receive the best treatment possible. He is a competent and caring surgeon who has your best interests in mind.