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Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) Surgery

Understanding Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) Surgery, Risks and Recovery

ACDF: Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion Surgery in Birmingham and Hoover, Alabama

Patients throughout Birmingham and Hoover, Alabama, find comprehensive care for spine conditions from the board-certified physicians at Southlake Orthopaedics. For those experiencing a herniated or degenerative disc in the neck, an effective treatment is anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF). Discover what the procedure entails and information about risks and recovery from Southlake Orthopaedics.

What Is Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) Surgery?

ACDF is a combination of several surgeries used to treat damaged intervertebral discs. These discs feature an outer ring of fibrous cartilage and a gelatinous interior for cushioning between vertebrae (spine bones). Discectomy is the procedure used to remove an arthritic or herniated disc. Cervical means the uppermost part of the spine that encompasses the neck. Anterior is a surgical approach where the surgeon works from the front of the body. Put together, anterior cervical discectomy is surgery to remove a damaged disc from the front of the neck.

The second half of this surgery is fusion. This procedure helps a patient maintain spinal stability. It involves inserting a bone graft in place of the removed disc that fuses with the surrounding bone. The surgeon may also put implantation devices at the site, such as plates, rods, or screws, to ensure bones align during the fusion.

Conditions That Can Be Treated With ACDF Surgery

There are several cases where doctors may recommend ACDF, the most common being cervical radiculopathy. This condition causes nerve pain that radiates from the neck to other parts of the body, like the arms and shoulders. The two main causes of cervical radiculopathy include:

  • Cervical disc herniation: This occurs when an intervertebral disc in the cervical spine tears or leaks.
  • Cervical spondylosis (arthritis of the neck): This refers to changes to the spine that happen because of normal wear-and-tear with age.


Another spine condition ACDF helps treat is spinal cord compression, also known as cervical spondylotic myelopathy. Spinal cord compression can begin because of cervical spondylosis, disc degeneration, an injury, or certain repeated activities. Although rare, ACDF may help treat cervical spine fractures and tumors.

What to Expect During the Procedure

Southlake Orthopaedics performs minimally invasive ACDF. After administering anesthesia to help the patient fall asleep, the surgeon begins by making a small incision at the front of the neck. Typically, they cut at the side of the neck so that postsurgical scarring is less visible.

The first step is to separate the carotid arteries and sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle from the esophagus and trachea using special instruments. Then, the surgeon removes the soft disc and any bone spurs or herniated pieces causing compression. The area is sanitized, and a bone graft is put in place of the soft disc. An implantation device is added to ensure the bone graft grows in place. The surgeon may also affix a collar around that patient’s neck for temporary support following surgery. 

Scan of the cervical spine, indicating the need for ACDF surgery

ACDF Surgery Risks

Like all surgeries, ACDF comes with the risk of post-surgical complications. Bleeding, infection, and adverse reactions to anesthesia are common surgical complications. However, the risk of infection is generally low with ACDF. Additionally, patients tend to encounter fewer complications following minimally invasive surgery than traditional, open surgery.

Other possible complications of ACDF include:

  • Further nerve damage and pain
  • Temporary hoarseness or difficulty swallowing
  • Failure of bone graft to fuse with bone (often a result of smoking)
  • Fracture of stabilization hardware
  • Migration of bone graft from the surgical site
  • Added stress on nearby discs, causing more degeneration

ACDF Surgery Recovery

After anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, the patient is taken to a postoperative area to begin recovery. The surgical team will monitor their vitals and treat pain. Most patients leave the day after surgery, but an overnight stay may be necessary for patients with breathing trouble and similar issues.

Surgeons will prescribe pain medications to help relieve symptoms during recovery, as well as instructions for exercise. Surgeons will prescribe pain medications to help relieve symptoms during recovery and provide instructions for exercise. If the patient is given a collar, the surgeon will inform them when it should be left on and taken off.

A follow-up appointment will be scheduled approximately two weeks after surgery. The surgeon will perform X-rays to confirm the progress of the fusion. Rehabilitation and physical therapy typically begin several months after surgery to help patients regain strength and range of motion.

Why Choose Southlake Orthopaedics for ACDF Surgery?

Southlake Orthopaedics is a comprehensive center for orthopedic care; from diagnosis to treatment to recovery, the board-certified and multi-level specialists are beside patients to help them experience relief from debilitating conditions. Surgeons utilize minimally invasive techniques to improve outcomes and reduce recovery times. The team of certified physical therapists works alongside the surgical staff to create customized rehabilitation plans. 

Find Advanced Surgical Care for Spine Conditions and Injuries at Southlake Orthopaedics

Obtain anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, as well as other treatments for spine conditions, from the board-certified physicians at Southlake Orthopaedics. Delivering multi-specialty orthopedic services at two offices in Birmingham-Grandview and Hoover, AL, Southlake Orthopaedics is the premier center for complete orthopedic care, from diagnosis to surgery to rehabilitation. Contact us today for more information about minimally invasive ACDF surgery.