Patients diagnosed with a degenerative or herniated disc, chronic hand and arm weakness or pain may need a minimally invasive procedure known as a cervical or lumbar discectomy and fusion.
“When physical therapy and all conservative treatment methods cannot treat the pain from these disorders, a cervical or lumbar discectomy and fusion may provide relief patients are seeking,” says John A. Jenkins, M.D., a board-certified neurosurgeon at Orlando Neurosurgery.
The spine is made up of intervertebral discs that rest between the vertebrae in the spine. These shock absorbers are important for physical movement and function. When these discs are injured, compressed, or worn out, the patient can experience severe pain, movement limitations, and disruption of their lives.
The cervical or lumbar discectomy and fusion (ACDF) process is a surgical procedure to remove a damaged disc in the neck or spine. Typically, a bone graft is applied to fill the open disc space to bridge the vertebrae together in a spinal fusion.
This type of neurosurgery is effective for relieving the severe arm pain characterized by the disorder in 92 to 100% of all cases and can reduce neck pain in 73 to 83% of patients.
What is Cervical or Lumbar Discectomy and Fusion?
Cervical or lumbar discectomy and fusion is a procedure that removes discs in the spine and joins two or more vertebrae into a single, more stable structure. Typically, the surgeon uses a bone graft or implants to replace the disc and create stability. Then the area is fused together with plates and screws. Eventually, the fusion will heal into one solid, strong bone. This process could take a year or longer.
Many times, neck and back pain is caused by degenerative changes to the intervertebral discs in your cervical spine. These discs are located between the vertebrae on the spinal column. When these discs start to decay or herniate, spinal fusion procedures stop the movement between bones, securing the vertebrae together to help lessen any pain.
To understand this spinal repair process, let’s break down the phrase, “cervical or lumbar discectomy and fusion.” To fully understand this phrase, it helps to be familiar with some basic anatomy.
The spine is a bony column designed to protect the bundle of nerves that connect the brain with all the moving parts of the body. Keeping the spine healthy is vital to living an active, pain-free life.
The spinal column is made up of 24-smaller bones called vertebrae stacked one atop the other to create the column of the human spine. Between each vertebra are the intervertebral discs that keep bones from rubbing together.
Spines have three sections:
- Cervical spine, which has seven vertebrae from the back of your head to your neck
- Thoracic spine, which has 12 vertebrae in the middle of your back
- Lumbar spine, which consists of five (sometimes six) vertebrae in your lower back
With a clear picture of the spinal anatomy established, let’s put the terms “cervical or lumbar discectomy and fusion” together:
- The word “cervical” refers to the top spinal vertebrae in the neck
- The word “lumbar” refers to the spinal vertebrae in the lower back
- The word “discectomy” is the removal of a disc in the spinal column
- The word “fusion” means the physician melds together these vertebrae to limit pain
Cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) is one type of neck surgery that removes a damaged cervical disc to eliminate the pressure on nerves and the numbness, pain, tingling, and weakness.
The word “discectomy” refers to the process of surgical decompression that occurs when the disc is removed to alleviate the symptoms of a cervical herniated disc.
A herniated disc happens when the protective outer layer of the intervertebral discs starts to break down. This can lead to all kinds of uncomfortable, painful sensations:
- Arm and leg or shoulder and arm pain
- Numbness of the hands or tingling in the extremities as nerves are pinched
- Weakness affecting your ability to lift, grip, or even walk
Lumbar discectomy and fusion remove the discs in the lower back then fuse two or more vertebrae to stabilize the spine. This process can help people suffering from herniated discs as well as those struggling with degenerative disc disease.
Degenerative disc disease happens when the discs in the spine break down. This can happen simply with the process of aging. How this disease manifests in people depends on a variety of factors, but it can cause osteoarthritis in the spine or other chronic problems that are painful and debilitating.
What is Recovery Like After Cervical or Lumbar Discectomy and Fusion?
Most patients recover within four to six weeks after this surgery. Depending on the type of procedure used, some patients can go home the same day, or within 24-hours. During the recovery time at home, the doctor will seek to help manage any pain during the healing process. Most patients start walking the same day of the surgery and many will undergo physical therapy as part of their rehabilitative process.
Cervical or lumbar discectomy and fusion can help patients feel better if they’re experiencing:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Scoliosis, a condition where the spine abnormally curves
- Spinal cord compression
- Spinal fractures
- Spinal stenosis, which is narrowing of the spinal canal
- Spondylolisthesis, or forward shifting of a spinal disc
- Tumors or a spinal infection
If you are experiencing back pain, you have a variety of non-surgical and surgical treatment options available from the experts at Orlando Neurosurgery.