What is an Anterior Cervical Discectomy?

Anterior cervical discectomy is a surgical procedure designed to relieve pressure on cervical nerve roots or the spinal cord itself that is caused by a herniated or bulging disc. To accomplish this, the surgeon enters through the front of the neck to remove the offending disc along with any bone spurs that may also be compressing the spinal nerves.

Procedure

To reach the spine, the surgeon makes an incision in the lower part of the front of the neck. Moving aside the esophagus, trachea, and any local blood vessels, he exposes the damaged or diseased disc in the cervical spine. He then removes the disc along with any bone spurs on the adjacent vertebrae. The foramen—the opening through which a cervical nerve root leaves the spinal column—may also be enlarged in order to create more space and reduce nerve compression.

Removal of the disc leaves a void that the surgeon may fill in with a bone graft or metal cage. This procedure, known as a fusion, creates a bridge between the two vertebrae above and below the graft. Over time, the bone graft will fuse with the adjacent vertebrae to create one long, healthy bone mass. This process usually takes about 3 months, although it may take longer for smokers or those with other medical problems. In some cases, the surgeon screws a metal plate over the area to add additional support and stability to the spine.

Benefits

Anterior cervical discectomy offers the potential benefit of relieving neck pain and related symptoms by removing pressure from the nerves of the cervical spine.

Risks

As with all surgeries, there are some risks. These include the possibility of bleeding at the surgical site, the formation of a blood clot, infection, hoarseness, nerve damage, injury to the esophagus or trachea, and an adverse reaction to the anesthesia. If the graft does not fuse properly, pseudarthrosis may also occur. Serious complications, however, are uncommon with anterior cervical discectomies.

Occasionally, herniated discs will heal spontaneously or respond to nonsurgical treatments, so an anterior cervical discectomy is usually reserved for patients who do not show improvement after using medications, physical therapy, and other treatment modalities. Anterior cervical discectomies successfully relieve neck and arm pain in the majority of people, although some numbness and weakness may persist for a few weeks or months before improvement occurs.

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.