In some cases, cervical radiculopathy can be treated with rest, anti-inflammatory medication, and physical therapy. A cervical collar may be worn for support. If symptoms persist after 6 to 12 weeks, surgery may be necessary. The goal of surgery is to eliminate pressure on the spinal nerves, stabilize the spine, relieve symptoms, prevent further injury, and restore function and movement. Anterior cervical decompression and spine fusion (ACDF) surgery is commonly used to treat cervical radiculopathy.
You will be sedated for your surgery. ACDF surgery is performed through an incision at the front of the neck. Your surgeon will make an incision approximately two inches long on the front of your neck, carefully avoiding your throat and airway. Your muscles and arteries will be moved aside with care to allow access to the vertebrae. Your surgeon will remove abnormal disc and bone structures.
Next, the surgeon places a bone graft or interbody fusion cage to support the cervical spine and promote healing. Surgical hardware including plates and screws may be used. The surgical hardware secures the vertebrae together and allows the bone grafts to heal, fusing together the vertebrae.
At the completion of your ACDF surgery, your surgeon will close your incision with stitches. You will receive pain medication immediately following your surgery. You will wear a neck brace or collar while your fusion heals.
You should expect to stay overnight in the hospital. You may need some help from another person during the first few days or weeks at home. If you do not have family members or friends nearby, talk to your doctor about possible alternative arrangements.
Following surgery, your doctor will initially restrict your activity level and body positioning. You should avoid lifting, housework, and yard-work until your doctor gives you the okay to do so. You will wear a neck brace for support. You will gradually increase your activity level. Once your neck has healed, physical therapists will teach you flexibility and strengthening exercises. You will also learn body mechanics, proper postures for your spine, for you to use when you stand, sit, and lift objects.
The recovery process is different for everyone. It depends on the particulars of your surgery and the extent of your condition. Your surgeon will let you know what to expect. Generally, the recovery time for ACDF is several weeks. Your arm pain should go away fairly quickly however, it may take weeks to months for your arm weakness and numbness to resolve.