Anterior cervical corpectomy and fusion (ACCF) is performed for patients with symptomatic, progressive cervical spinal stenosis and myelopathy. It is performed to remove the large, arthritic osteophytes (bone spurs) that are compressing the spinal cord and spinal nerves. However, in order to do so generally involves removing nearly the entire vertebral body and disc, which must be replaced with a piece of bone graft and mended (fused) together to maintain stability.
The surgery is performed utilizing general anesthesia. A breathing tube (endotracheal tube) is placed and the patient breathes using a ventilator during the surgery. Preoperative intravenous antibiotics are given. Patients are positioned in the supine (lying on the back) position, generally using a standard flat operating table. The surgical region (neck area) is cleansed with a special cleaning solution. Sterile drapes are placed, and the surgical team wears sterile surgical attire such as gowns and gloves to maintain a bacteria-free environment.
A 2-4 centimeter (depending on the number of levels) transverse incision is made in one of the creases of neck, just off the midline. The cervical fascia is gently divided in a natural plane, between the esophagus and carotid sheath (area containing the blood vessels in the neck). Small retractors and an operating microscope are used to allow the surgeon to visualize the anterior (front part) vertebral body and discs. After the retractor is in place, an x-ray is used to confirm that the appropriate spinal level(s) is identified.
A complete corpectomy and discectomy (removal of the cervical vertebral body and disc, including the protruding osteophytes and disc fragments) is typically performed, allowing the spinal cord and nerves to return to their normal size and shape when the compressive lesions are removed. Small dental-type instruments and biting/grasping instruments (such as a pituitary rongeur and kerrison rongeur) are used to remove the arthritic, hypertrophic (overgrown) bone spurs. All surrounding areas are also checked to ensure no compressive spurs or disc fragments are remaining. The size of the empty disc space is measured; a graft size is chosen so as to restore the normal disc space height and the graft is then gently tapped into the disc space, in between the two vertebral bodies. A small titanium metal plate is frequently placed, affixed to the vertebrae with small screws, to impart immediate stability to the construct and allow for optimal bone healing and fusion. X-rays are then used to confirm appropriate position and alignment of the graft and hardware.
The wound area is usually washed out with sterile water containing antibiotics. The deep fascial layer and subcutaneous layers are closed with a few strong sutures. The skin can usually be closed using special surgical glue, leaving a minimal scar and requiring no bandage.
The total surgery time is approximately 2 to 3 hours, depending on the number of spinal levels involved.
Most patients are able to go home 4-5 days after surgery. Before patients go home, physical therapists and occupational therapists work with patients and instruct them on proper techniques of getting in and out of bed and walking independently. Patients are instructed to avoid bending and twisting of the neck in the acute postoperative period (first 4-6 weeks). Patients can gradually begin to bend and twist their neck after 6-8 weeks as the pain subsides and the neck and back muscles get stronger. Patients are also instructed to avoid heavy lifting in the acute postoperative period (first 4-6 weeks).
Most patients are placed in a padded, plastic neck brace or cervicothoracic brace (CTO). This reduces the stress on the neck area and helps decrease pain. It can also be used to improve bone healing by maintaining the neck in a rigid position, especially in the first few weeks and months after surgery.
The wound area can be left open to air. No bandages are required. Small surgical tapes affixing the suture should be left in place. The area should be kept clean and dry.
Patients can shower immediately after surgery, but should keep the incision area covered with a bandage and tape, and try to avoid the water from water hitting directly over the surgical area. After the shower, patients should remove the bandage, and dry off the surgical area. Patients should not take a bath until the wound has completely healed, which is usually around 2 weeks after surgery.
Patients may begin driving when the pain has decreased to a mild level and mobility of the neck has improved, which is usually between 3-8 weeks after surgery. Patients need to be able to turn their neck and body enough to see right and left while driving. Patients should not drive while taking pain medicines (narcotics). When driving for the first time after surgery, patients should make it a short drive only and have someone come with them, in case the pain flares up and they need help driving back home. After patients feel comfortable with a short drive, they can begin driving longer distances alone.
Return to Work and Sports
Patients may return to light work duties as early as 3-4 weeks after surgery, depending on when the surgical pain has subsided. Patients are generally advised to refrain from heavy work and lifting after surgery. Patients may participate in low impact sports and recreational activities after 6-8 months, when the surgical pain has subsided and the neck and back strength has returned appropriately with physical therapy.
Results and Outcome Studies
The results of anterior cervical corpectomy and fusion surgery in the treatment of symptomatic, progressive, cervical spinal stenosis and myelopathy are generally good. The surgery serves to improve pain and function and prevent further neurologic deterioration and paralysis. Numerous research studies in medical journals demonstrate greater than 80-91% good or excellent results from anterior cervical corpectomy and fusion surgery. The fusion rate is significantly improved with the use of a small titanium plate, and typically obviates the need for a halo postoperatively. Most patients are noted to have gradual improvement of their pain and function following surgery.