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Anterior Cervical Discectomy


  • Anterior cervical discectomy (ACD) is surgery to remove one or more vertebral discs from your neck. A cervical disc is a sac filled with a gel-like material found between your vertebrae. Your vertebrae are the bones in your back that are linked together to form your spine. Your spine surrounds your spinal cord which contains your nerves. Your cervical discs and vertebrae are found in your neck. Your cervical vertebrae and discs help your spine support your head. Your discs allow your neck to make certain movements such as bending and turning. Your discs also help protect your spine from being damaged by movement.
    Picture of a normal spine
  • ACD is used to treat disc problems such as cervical disc herniation and spondylosis. Cervical disc herniation occurs when the gel-like material bulges out from between your vertebrae. The bulging disc may press on your nerves or spinal cord. Spondylosis occurs when your discs begin to degenerate (break down). The disc loses its height and may bulge into your spinal cord. Cervical disc problems may be very painful and decrease your neck and arm movement. You also may have numbness (loss of feeling) and tingling in your neck, arms, and legs.
  • During ACD, your caregiver will remove one or more discs that are causing your symptoms. The discs may be replaced with a graft. The graft may be taken from your hip bone, or it may be a man-made graft. Bone pieces from a donor (another person) also may be used. Plates and screws may be used to keep your graft secure or to join your remaining vertebrae together. Having an ACD may decrease your symptoms such as pain and numbness. ACD also may prevent your nerves or spinal cord from being permanently damaged.


Take your medicine as directed:

Call your primary healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why you take them. Take the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency. Throw away old medicine lists.

  • Pain medicine: You may need medicine to take away or decrease pain.
    • Learn how to take your medicine. Ask what medicine and how much you should take. Be sure you know how, when, and how often to take it.
    • Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine. Tell caregivers if your pain does not decrease.
    • Pain medicine can make you dizzy or sleepy. Prevent falls by calling someone when you get out of bed or if you need help.

Ask for information about where and when to go for follow-up visits:

For continuing care, treatments, or home services, ask for more information.

  • During your follow-up visit, tell your caregiver if you are having any pain or other symptoms. Your caregiver may do a physical exam at which time he may check your muscle strength and reflexes. You may need imaging tests such as a cervical spine x-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The tests will help your caregiver see if your vertebrae have attached to each other properly. The tests also will show if your graft, plates, or screws have moved out of place. Ask your caregiver for more information about these and other tests that you may need.


Your caregiver may tell you to take many short walks after your surgery. Walking helps blood move through your body and may help prevent blood clots from forming. If you feel weak or dizzy while standing up, sit or lie down right away.

Neck brace:

You may need to wear a neck brace for a few weeks after your surgery. The brace will support your neck and hold it in the right position while you are healing. Do not stop wearing your neck brace until your caregiver says it is okay.

Physical therapy:

You may need physical therapy for a period of time after your surgery. A physical therapist will help you with special exercises. These exercises help make your muscles stronger and may help decrease your pain.

Quit smoking:

If you smoke, it may be harder for you to heal after your surgery. Smoking harms your heart, lungs, and blood. You are more likely to have a heart attack, lung disease, and cancer if you smoke. You will help yourself and those around you by not smoking. Ask your caregiver for more information about how to stop smoking if you are having trouble quitting.


  • The skin around your neck wound is red, warm, or swollen.
  • You have yellow or bad-smelling fluid coming from your wound.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have a cough that does not go away.
  • You have new or worsening trouble when swallowing.
  • You have new or worsening pain in your neck or arm.
  • You have worsening voice hoarseness (rough), or you have trouble speaking.
  • You have chest pain or trouble breathing that is getting worse over time.


  • Your bandage begins to soak with blood.
  • Your neck wound breaks open.
  • You have painful swelling in your neck and trouble swallowing.
  • You have new or worsening trouble moving your neck, arms, or legs.
  • You start leaking urine or stool (bowel movements).
  • You have sudden trouble breathing.
  • You have sudden pain in your chest.
  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and have trouble breathing.
  • You have new and sudden chest pain. You may have more pain when you take deep breaths or cough. You may cough up blood.
  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.