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Anterior Cervical Discectomy


Anterior cervical discectomy is surgery to remove one or more cervical discs from your neck. A cervical disc is material that cushions and separates the vertebrae of your neck. The discs help your spine support your head and protect your spine from being damaged when you move.


Before your surgery:

  • Informed consent is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.
  • An IV is a small tube placed in your vein that is used to give you medicine or liquids.
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics may be given to help prevent an infection caused by bacteria.
  • Pre-op care: You will be taken to the room where your surgery will be done. Your healthcare provider may place supports under your neck and use special traction weights to stretch your neck gently.
  • General anesthesia will keep you asleep and free from pain during surgery. Anesthesia may be given through your IV. You may instead breathe it in through a mask or a tube placed down your throat. The tube may cause you to have a sore throat when you wake up.
  • Nasogastric tube: A nasogastric (NG) tube may be put down your nose and into your stomach. An NG tube keeps air and fluid out of your stomach during surgery. The NG tube is usually taken out a short time after your surgery.

During your surgery:

  • Fluoroscopy (special x-ray) may be used to find the correct area on your neck. An incision will then be made from the front of your neck to one side. Muscle and other tissues will be cut and secured out of the way to uncover your problem disc. A needle may then be inserted into your disc and an x-ray will be taken. The x-ray will show your healthcare provider if the needle is at the right disc level. Pins are put into the discs above and below the one to be removed to open the disc space.
  • Your disc will be removed along with any small bone pieces pushing on your nerves. Your graft will be put into the empty disc space, and the area may be filled in with bone chips. Screws and plates may be used to hold the disc securely in place and join your vertebrae together. Another x-ray may be done to show proper graft placement. The special pins will be removed, and your cuts will be closed with stitches. A bandage will be used to cover your surgical site. The bandage will keep the area clean and dry and to help prevent infection.

After your surgery:

You will be taken to a room where you can rest until you are fully awake. Do not get out of bed until your healthcare provider says it is okay. A healthcare provider may remove your bandage soon after surgery to check your wound. When healthcare providers see that you are not having any problems, you may be taken back to your room.

  • Cervical spine x-ray: A cervical spine x-ray may be done after your surgery to check your vertebrae. The x-ray is also done to check the placement of any grafts, plates, or screws used during surgery.
  • Neck brace: You may need to wear a neck brace after your surgery. The brace will support your neck and hold it in the right position while you are healing.


  • Pain medicine: Healthcare providers may give you medicine to take away or decrease your pain. Medicine may be given regularly, or may only be given if you ask healthcare providers for it. Tell healthcare providers if your pain does not decrease enough for you to feel better. Do not wait until the pain is very bad to ask for your pain medicine. The medicine may not work as well at controlling your pain if you wait too long to take it.
  • Patient controlled analgesia: You may get pain medicine through an IV or an epidural line attached to a patient controlled analgesia (PCA) pump. Healthcare providers set the pump to let you give yourself small amounts of pain medicine when you push a button. Your pump may also give you a constant amount of medicine, in addition to the medicine that you give yourself. Let healthcare providers know if your pain is still bad even with the pain medicine.


Healthcare providers may help you get out of bed to walk on the same day after your surgery, or the next day. Walking helps blood move through your body and may help prevent blood clots from forming. Call your healthcare provider before getting up for the first time. If you feel weak or dizzy while standing up, sit or lie down right away and call your healthcare provider.

Neurologic signs:

Neurologic signs are also called neuro signs, neuro checks, or neuro status. Healthcare providers check your eyes, your memory, and how easily you wake up. Your hand grasp and balance also may be tested. Neuro signs may help your healthcare provider check for any nerve or spinal cord damage after your surgery. You may need to have your neuro signs checked often. Your healthcare provider may even have to wake you up to check your neuro signs.

Physical therapy:

Your healthcare provider may have you start physical therapy before you leave the hospital. A physical therapist will help you with special exercises. These exercises help make your muscles stronger and may help decrease your pain.


  • During your surgery, you may bleed more than expected. Your nerves, spinal cord, blood vessels, or other tissues may be damaged during surgery. If the covering of your spinal cord is damaged, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) may leak out. After surgery, you may have neck pain and swelling, bruising, and your wound may get infected. You may have a hoarse, rough voice and trouble swallowing. You may feel like you have something stuck in your throat and choke when trying to swallow. Your blood vessels may swell and you may get a blood clot in your leg or arm. This can cause pain and swelling, and it can stop blood from flowing where it needs to go in your body. The blood clot may travel to your lungs or brain causing chest pain and trouble breathing, or a stroke. These problems can be life-threatening.
  • If a bone graft was taken from your hip area, you may have hip pain. You may also have bruising and get an infection in your wound. The graft, plates, or screws used during your surgery may come loose. Your graft may collapse, break, or stick out into your spinal canal. The plates and screws may also become damaged and move into your spinal canal. You may need another surgery to fix these problems. Even with surgery, you may still have pressure on your nerves, and long-term neck problems.
  • Without surgery, your neck and arm pain may worsen. Your arms and hands may always be numb. You also may have a constant burning or tingling in your arms and hands. Your discs may continue to break down and you may have trouble moving your neck and arms. You may begin to have trouble walking. You also may begin to leak urine or bowel movements.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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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

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