There are three typical reasons people have surgery to solve neck pain issues:

  1. Stabilize the cervical spine
  2. Decompress the spinal cord
  3. Remove a damage disc that irritates a nerve

The most common surgery for neck pain involves a discectomy, followed by neck fusion.  In this surgery, the disc causes the problem is removed.

Anterior Cervical Discectomy

The surgery usually takes plan in the front of the neck and is called anterior cervical discectomy.  Doing the surgery from the front of the neck area rather than the back side has distinct advantages.  It gives the surgeon direct access to the cervical discs that are causing the pain.  The doctor will move neck muscles, trachea, and esophagus slightly to allow access to the disc and vertebrae.  This avoid having to disturb spinal nerves, neck muscles, and the spinal cord itself.

Neck Fusion Surgery

After the damaged disc is remove, there will be a space left in the vertebrae.  Your surgeon will fill that space by implanting a bone graft in the open space.  The graft works as “a bridge” between the vertebrae.  Then, the implant and the vertebrae are fixed in place with metal plates.

Over time, the body’s natural healing process allows for new bone cell growth around the bone graft.  Over time, the neck fusion will occur as the bone graft and new bone cells will fuse the two vertebrae to form a solid piece.

Types Of Bones Grafts

There are several types of bone grafts that can be used.

Surgeons can use bone cells from the hip, which they can harvest at the same time as the neck surgery.  Because it has bone growing cells and proteins, fusion has a higher success rate.  However, using this so-called autograft bone means you will have hip pain after surgery.

Doctors also can use bone grafts from donors (cadavers), called an allograft bone.  Bones are collected from donors after the pass.  The graft itself does not contain living cells or proteins but prevents the need to take bone cells from your hip.  Your surgeon will pack the center of the allograft with living bone tissue shaves from your spine during your surgery to prompt growth.

A third choice is a bone graft substitute.  It may be made of ceramic, hard plastic or other viable compounds.  These so-called cages are also packed with living bone tissue shavings from your spine during the surgery.

ACDF

ACDF is the shorthand name for the two processes done together: Anterior Cervical Discectomy + Fusion (ACDF)

Post-Operative

After surgery, you may experience some more limited range of motion.  This will vary according to your range of motion prior to surgery and the number of vertebrae levels that need to be fused.  In many cases, the range of motion will increase post-surgery.  If you have to have more than two levels fused, you will likely notice a difference when looking up or down, or in turning your head.