It’s not unusual for discs in the cervical spine to become worn with age or damaged due to a sudden injury, as may be the case with a car accident or forceful impact. Oftentimes, medication, physical therapy, and other conservative treatments can effectively manage pain. However, when such remedies aren’t providing sufficient relief, surgery may be recommended. A common procedure is anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF), a type of surgery that minimizes movement in the affected area. Understandably, you may be concerned about the idea of limited neck motion after ACDF surgery. Santa Monica spine surgeons from The Spine Institute share three things to consider before you decide if this procedure is right for you.
1. Range of Motion May Not Be Significantly Affected
Anterior cervical discectomy with fusion is typically performed in a lower portion of the neck that normally doesn’t play much of a role in mobility. Even with two adjacent vertebrae being fused together, nearby discs often compensate for the limited mobility in the affected area. With other vertebrae taking over some neck functions, you might not even notice a significant change in how your neck moves. How much neck motion is affected with ACDF will also depend on several factors, including:
- Condition of nearby joints and bones
- Amount of cushioning between cervical spine discs
- Flexibility of supporting muscles and ligaments
2. Range of Motion May Increase
For some patients, range of motion will increase following ACDF surgery. In some situations, the procedure may ease the pain that made it difficult to move the neck prior to surgery, allowing it to move more comfortably. The risk associated with this restoration of neck movement is that the added neck flexibility may place too much stress on the area that was fused before the fusion fully forms. Based on available research, there doesn’t appear to be significant risk of injury to other discs beyond the fusion site when single layers are involved. However, this risk does increase if multiple layers are fused.
3. Full Neck Motion Isn’t Usually Necessary
Unlike the lower spine, the cervical spine doesn’t need to constantly move and shift for most daily activities. Even in cases where multiple levels are fused, there may still be enough range of motion to perform most routine tasks. For situations where more neck movement is normally required, the following adjustments may help:
- Compensating with upper back and shoulder movements
- Modifying mirrors in cars or using specially designed intelligent rear view mirrors that provide a more detailed view
- Using a chair that swivels at work to minimize the need for excessive neck turns
Most patients recover from an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion within 4 to 6 weeks. Your recovery may be more productive if you actively participate in physical therapy and pay attention to restrictions on activities to avoid placing too much stress on healing tissues. If you have any doubts about this procedure, consider seeking a second opinion before making your decision. If ACDF is right for you, keep in mind less invasive techniques are often used with spine surgery. Santa Monica patients can reach out to The Spine Institute at 310-828-7757 to learn more.