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Alternative Treatment Options to ACDF Surgery

Have you been diagnosed with a damaged disc in your neck? Are you experiencing radiating pain or numbness and weakness in your arm from pressure on your spinal cord or nerves? Perhaps your doctor has even suggested a procedure called anterior cervical discectomy and fusion, or ACDF, as a means of treating it. Though ACDF surgery may be an appropriate treatment for you, it’s always a good idea to explore all of your options first. There may be other, possibly less invasive, solutions to help you feel better. 

Can Your Neck Pain Be Treated Without Surgery?

Quite often, neck pain will resolve after several weeks of non-surgical treatments. Before agreeing to surgery, be sure you’ve exhausted any possible non-surgical options, such as:

  • Changing your activities/movement: Take a moment to evaluate your typical day. Maybe you can identify something that exacerbates your pain, such as a repetitive movement. Avoiding activities that worsen your neck pain, or even taking a brief rest period, may help.
  • Medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, are often a good first-line treatment for pain and inflammation. But if that’s not sufficient, your doctor may be able to prescribe a short course of stronger pain medication or muscle relaxants, 
  • Heat and cold therapy: Ice packs or warm compresses can be used to decrease swelling and relax painful muscles. 
  • Physical therapy: A guided program to stretch and strengthen your spine can improve pain and other associated symptoms.
  • Epidural steroid injections: An injection directly into the area of the damaged disc may produce longer-lasting relief of both pain and inflammation. 

If you don’t improve after giving non-surgical treatments ample time to take effect, if your pain becomes debilitating, or if your symptoms from the spinal cord or nerve compression are worsening, it may be time to talk to a surgeon. 

What Surgical Alternatives to ACDF Are Available?

ACDF surgery has two parts. First is the “anterior cervical discectomy,” during which the damaged disc is removed through a small incision on the front of your neck. Next is the “fusion,” during which a bone graft is inserted in the place of the disc. Over time, the bone graft encourages the vertebrae above and below it to grow together into one solid bone. This provides stability to your spine and eliminates movement in that joint of your neck, reducing pain as a result. 

These procedures are sometimes performed instead of ACDF surgery to treat painful discs and relieve pressure on your spinal cord or spinal nerves:

  • Cervical laminoplasty: If you’re dealing with spinal cord compression, especially at multiple levels of your spine, cervical laminoplasty may be considered. This procedure makes a “hinge” in your lamina, the bony covering that protects the back of your spinal cord. This increases the amount of space in your spinal canal, relieving pressure on your spinal cord. 
  • Artificial disc replacement: This procedure may be used if you have one or possibly two damaged discs in your neck. During surgery, the disc is removed and a man-made artificial disc is inserted into its place. Because the new disc is designed to function just like your normal disc, it allows for normal movement at that level of your neck, unlike ACDF, which restricts motion. 

How Do You Know Which Treatment Is Right for You?

The key is to find a reputable spine surgeon. Look for a surgeon who routinely performs a variety of minimally invasive spine surgeries and will closely evaluate your particular case to determine what treatment is best. 

Factors that will influence this decision include:

  • Your age and overall health
  • Co-existing medical conditions
  • Your previous history of spine surgery
  • Which areas of your spine are affected
  • The presence of instability or deformity in your spine
  • Your treatment goals

When it comes to treating neck pain or compressed nerves, there’s no one right answer for everyone. This is why, at DISC Sports & Spine Center, we always explore all of your treatment options and work with you to find the most appropriate solution. 

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About the author

discmdgroup DISC Sports and Spine Center (DISC) is one of America’s foremost providers of minimally invasive spine procedures and advanced arthroscopic techniques. Our individually picked, highly specialized physicians apply both established and innovative solutions to diagnose, treat, and rehabilitate their patients in a one-stop, multi-disciplinary setting. With a wide range of specialists under one roof, the result is an unmatched continuity of care with more efficiency, less stress for the patient, and a zero MRSA infection rate. Read more articles by discmdgroup.