How Long Is Recovery From Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion?

For many, the term “a pain in the neck” isn’t just an expression; it’s a problem that affects everyday quality of life. One of the solutions to help resolve neck pain is an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgery. As a long-term solution for neck pain management, this procedure takes around three months to recover from, although the newly fused bone will continue to regain strength for up to a year.

Janet H. is a patient of Stephen R. Goll, M.D., a board-certified orthopaedic spine surgeon at the Orlando Orthopaedic Center specializing in minimally invasive spinal surgery, cervical and lumbar spine surgery, and adult spinal reconstructive surgery. Dr. Goll helped Janet recover from debilitating pain in her neck by performing anterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgery. She says, “What an amazing adventure this has been. It was really tough before I had the surgery. Things are much better now. I’m so grateful to Dr. Goll.”

What Is Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion?

Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion is a kind of surgery to repair a damaged disc in the neck. The procedure removes a damaged spinal disc to alleviate pressure, pain, numbness, and tingling due to disc compression. It’s for this reason that cervical discectomy and fusion is also sometimes called an anterior cervical decompression.

Janet says, “The greatest benefit has been the loss of pain.” This type of surgical procedure actually consists of two parts:

  1. Anterior cervical discectomy
  2. Fusion

Anterior cervical discectomy is the surgical removal of a disc from between the two vertebral bones in the spine. The procedure goes through the front, or anterior, of the neck to reach the disc. Then the fusion surgery is completed to stabilize the section of the spine that had the disc removed. Typically, a bone graft or implant is placed where the disc was to strengthen and hold steady that area of the spine.

Orthopaedic spine surgeons like Dr. Goll choose the anterior approach for this type of cervical discectomy and fusion procedure because it is less invasive and has clear benefits over other options. The advantages of anterior cervical discectomy and fusion include:

  • It allows doctors to directly visualize the cervical discs for easier removal
  • It grants doctors sufficient access to nearly the entire cervical spine
  • There is less postoperative pain because there is an easier path through the neck to the spine
  • It’s less invasive, due to there only being one thin vestigial muscle that needs to be cut to reach the surgical area
  • It can be performed as an outpatient procedure, which means less hospital time and lowered costs

For Janet, the change in her lifestyle after the procedure was dramatic. She says, “I’m not ready to not live. I want to be able to serve, participate in the world and my family. And now I can.”

Why Would I Need Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion Surgery?

Anterior Cervical Discectomy and FusionThe spine serves as a kind of shock absorber to the body, thanks to the intervertebral discs that rest between each bone on the spinal column. The intervertebral discs keep the bones from rubbing together normally, but when these discs begin to degrade or become damaged, the pain is intense.

That was exactly Janet’s experience. She says, “We left in October for a 4,000-mile trip in our RV. When I was loading, I lifted a lot of heavy things and put them up high. On that 4,000-mile trip, one month, I suffered the whole time, especially at night.” The pain was so bad, Janet said she cried herself to sleep on many nights.

Aging, arthritis, and injury can exaggerate the degeneration of your spinal discs. This pain can be debilitating and radiate outward from the neck, causing back and shoulder pain as well as headaches.

After the surgery, Janet shares that the change was dramatic. She says, “I’m about seven weeks out now, and I can do everything. I can live my life. I’m not in pain. I can sleep at night.”

How Hard Is It to Recover From an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion Procedure?

Most patients will undergo physical therapy (PT) after the surgery and will meet with their doctor about a month or six weeks after their anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. You may experience some pain after the surgery, which can be managed with medications to make you more comfortable.

You will need to follow your instructions carefully and avoid strenuous activity until cleared by the surgeon. It can take between three months and a year to fully regain the strength you are accustomed to, but with time and patience, you will be able to get back to the activities you enjoy the most.

Janet says the rehabilitation process for her was a good one. She says, “It’s life. It’s hope. I can enjoy my children and grandchildren. I can paint (I’m an artist). I can exercise at home and do PT. I’m so grateful. Now I have a very bright future.”

What Should You Expect at your Appointment?

Janet describes her experience at Orlando Orthopaedic Center as a positive one. She says, “I came into the office visit, waited a short amount of time. People were very friendly and helpful. There was just something calming about it.”

While we know that visiting a doctor can be stressful, Janet describes the experience as a soothing one. She says, “I never felt afraid. I never felt angst. When Dr. Goll came in, it was almost like a family member coming in.”

She continues, “He was so kind. I knew immediately that he cared. When he talked through the surgery with me, he did not push me to have surgery. He laid out the possibilities and what could happen. I made the choice to go ahead.”

Janet is very happy with the collaboration she had with her surgical team at the Orlando Orthopaedic Center. She says, “They’re a great group and they work from their heart. You feel that from the moment you come in.”