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Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease - Spinal Cord and Nerve Compression Treatment

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Symptoms of cervical degenerative disc disease may be relieved with non-surgical methods aimed at pain relief and activity modification.  Over-the-counter or prescription medication may be used to ease your pain.  If your symptoms do not improve significantly with these medications, your doctor may inject corticosteroid medication (a cortisone shot).
Non-surgical treatments for cervical degenerative disc disease are designed to relieve pain and restore function, but they cannot correct structural deformities, such as narrowing of the spinal canal.  Surgery is recommended when non-surgical treatments have provided only minimal or no improvement of symptoms.  Surgery is also advised if the disc is pressing directly on a nerve or the spinal cord, causing loss of function.

Anterior cervical decompression and spine fusion (ACDF) surgery is commonly used to treat cervical degenerative disc disease.  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 replace the disc and support the cervical spine.  Surgical hardware including plates and screws may be used.  The surgical hardware secures the vertebrae together and allows the bone grafts to heal.

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. 

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.  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, 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 arm weakness and numbness to resolve.

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