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Spine Surgery Guide


Surgical Technique

An anterior cervical discectomy is the most common surgical procedure to treat damaged cervical discs. Its goal is to relieve pressure on the nerve roots or on the spinal cord by removing the ruptured disc. It is called anterior because the cervical spine is reached through a small incision in the front of the neck (anterior means front). During the surgery, the soft tissues of the neck are separated and the disc is removed. Sometimes the space between the vertebrae are left open. However, in order to maintain the normal height of the disc space, the surgeon may choose to fill the space with a bone graft.

     A bone graft is a small piece of bone, either taken from the patient's body (usually from the pelvic area) or from a bone bank. This piece of bone fills the disc space and ideally will join or fuse the vertebrae together. This is called fusion. It usually takes a few months for the vertebrae to completely fuse. In some cases, some instrumentation (such as plates or screws) may also be used to add stability to the spine.

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After Surgery

Patients will feel some pain after surgery, especially at the incision site. Pain medications are usually given to help control the pain. Upon a physician's direction, moist heat and frequent repositioning can also provide some relief. While tingling sensations or numbness is common, and should lessen over time, they should be reported to the doctor. Most patients are up and moving around within a few hours after surgery. In fact, this is encouraged in order to keep circulation normal and avoid blood clots.

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    However, most patients need to remain in the hospital, gradually increasing the amount of time they are up and walking, before they are discharged. Prior to discharge the doctor will provide the patient with careful directions about activities that can be pursued and activities to be avoided. Often patients are encouraged to maintain a daily low-impact exercise program. Walking, and slowly increasing the distance each day, is the best exercise after this type of surgery. Some discomfort is normal, but pain is a signal to slow down and rest.

    Signs of infection like swelling, redness or draining at the incision site, and fever should be checked out by the surgeon immediately. Keep in mind, the amount of time it takes to return to normal activities is different for every patient. Discomfort should decrease a little each day. Increases in energy and activity are signs that recovery is going well. Maintaining a healthy attitude, a well-balanced diet, and getting plenty of rest are also great ways to speed up recovery.
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This information is not designed to replace a physician's independent judgment about the appropriateness or risks of a procedure for a given patient.
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