What to expect from ACDF surgery

Written by: Mr David Bell
Published: | Updated: 12/12/2023
Edited by: Lisa Heffernan

Are you experiencing pain, tingling and weakness in your arms and hands? You could be suffering from a herniated disc. We interviewed Mr David Bell about ACDF surgery, to treat pain caused by a bulging or herniated disk in the neck.

What is ACDF?

ACDF stands for Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion. It refers to an operation to remove a herniated or bulging disc from the front of the neck and the fusing of the bones after the operation.

Anterior refers to the front because the surgeon accesses the disc from the front of the neck and cervical refers to the neck region of the spine where the disc is removed. Discectomy is the process of cutting out the disc and fusion refers to the joining of the bones back together after the disc is removed.


What does ACDF treat?

ACDF treats pain that radiates from the neck to the shoulders, all the way down to the arms, hands and fingers. The pain is caused by a bulging or herniated disk. Invertebral discs divide and cushion the bones in the spinal column and prevent them from grinding against each other, but if a disc becomes damaged (herniated), it pinches and compresses nerves in the neck, causing pain.

ACDF surgery removes the damaged disc to treat the chronic pain, tingling, weakness and numbness that runs from the neck down to the fingers.


What happens during ACDF surgery?

An incision is made in the front of the neck. The trachea (windpipe), oesophagus (food pipe) and tissues in front of the spine are moved to one side, to allow the surgeon to see the spine bones and discs.

The bulging disc is identified using X-ray guidance and the disc is removed. This is the discectomy part of the operation. The disc is replaced with a spacer and bone graft, where the surgeon inserts bone to replace the disc, which can come from the person’s body or from a bone bank. The bones eventually grow together and fuse. That’s why this part is called the fusion part of the operation.


What to expect from recovery

Recovery from the operation normally takes 4 weeks. Patients can leave the hospital a few days after the operation.

Temporary side effects experienced can include:

  • Stiffness
  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A sore throat

Strenuous activities are not recommended immediately after surgery. Simple exercises will be prescribed by the physiotherapist to help regain normal movement over time.


Other important factors for a speedy and successful recovery involve:

  • Using proper lifting techniques
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Maintaining good posture

Like all surgeries, this operation does have its risks, which should be talked through with your doctor prior to the operation. If you would like to discuss ACDF surgery as an option, consult with a specialist and together you can make an informed decision that’s best for you.

By Mr David Bell

Mr David Bell is a London-based neurosurgeon who specialises in complex spinal surgery. His NHS practice is King’s College Hospital where he is a key part of the supra-regional complex spine team, he also operates at a number of prominent private clinics including the London Neurosurgery Partnership. His specialist interests are degenerative spinal disease, minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS), disc replacement surgery, vertebroplasty/kyphoplasty, back pain surgery, spinal tumours and spinal fractures. Mr Bell strongly supports a multidisciplinary approach to all disorders of the spine and regularly leads MDT (medical diagnosis and therapy) spine and neuro-oncology meetings.

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