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Questions on actual recovery from ACDF

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,671
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:34 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hi all,
I am contemplating ACDF and was wondering about the actual recovery. When they say 3-6 months recovery time, are you incapicitated that whole time? I see some people who say they are 4-5 months out of surgery and still not back at work and that they feel pain from bending down or picking up something heavy. Also people have complained of being very tired. I am concerned, what if you forget and bend down by accident? Can you do damage to your neck by something so simple? Also, what is your ROM after the surgery? If anyone could post some of their experiences, I would be so appreciative. I am trying to get a realistic idea for when Ill be up and around and when I can go back to work. I think actual people who have it done know better than the drs. BTW-I keep all of us on here in my prayers- I really do.

Thanks alot, Maria


  • Recovery from spine surgery is individual to each person. There are so many factors that play into it, that's why you will see some who have quick recoveries while others struggle for many more months. You physical condition going into surgery has a ton to do with it. Also diet and exercise before and after are a big deal.

    The surgeon will give you an estimation based on his/her experience and also based on what is seen during your surgery.

    The power of suggestion has a lot to do with it as well. Attitude and outlook are crucial. A person who plans on having a rough recovery, will undoubtedly have a rough recovery. Someone who keeps a positive attitude and outlook, will have a better chance of a good recovery.

  • jlrfryejjlrfrye ohioPosts: 1,110
    Hi Maria, I am 5 weeks post-op from cervical fusion of c4-c7. I am returning to work tomorrow on a part time basis. My ROM from side to side is almost normal but I do have trouble looking up or down. As far as forgetting about what I am not supposed to do, my body will tell me when it is doing something it should not.
    I was very tired from the surgery for around 3 weeks but daily walks brought my energy level up. Good luck with your recovery
  • "C", my dad used to say "When a dog has a broken leg, he gets up and walks when he's able. When a human has a broken leg, the doc tells him it'll be six weeks until he'll be able to walk. The human won't walk until six weeks because that's what the doc said, whether he can or not."

    The power of suggestions is indeed very, very powerful. Keeping a good attitude is on top of the post-op must haves list.

  • Welcome to SH! There is a lot of info here on the forums and people in chat who are supportive as well.

    Big question for you is what do you do for work? How old are you and what is your physical condition?

    I had severe pain after fusion and had to be readmitted for pain control, lost use of my left hand. A nerve that had been pinched for a very long time "woke up". But after a couple of months, rest, pain meds, and Lyrica I had an excellent recovery. My range of motion is a bit limited to the right, but overall is good. A year and a half later, if I overdo an activity that stresses my neck, I will have a flare up of pain again.

    PLEASE do listen to the advice that we all heal differently and have different outcomes. Work at staying positive, remind yourself daily that it takes time to heal.

    My neck post-fusion is so much better now and I am glad I made the decision to have surgery.

    Best wishes to you,

  • Thank you for all of your input. I only have a 6-7 level of daily pain, but its the numbness in my arms (mostly right) that is causing my bad anxiety and I cant stop obsessing over this decision. I see alot of success stories, but also some horror stories and wonder if I am going to do more damage. You can clearly see from the MRI that C5-6 & C6-7 are touching the spinal canal, moreso than 3 years ago. In theory, it makes sense, remove the discs and have no more pain/numbness. I just cant wait to make a decision one way or another and can stop driving myself (and all of you-lol) crazy. Thanks, Maria

    BTW- We are trying to adopt (after years of infertility) and I want to do the surgery now before we have a newborn that I cant take care of.
  • Hi Maria.

    I had a one level ADCF on July 22. My hospital stay was two nights. One of the nights was in the cardiac unit for chest pain but was bad reflux as I thought. Other than the reflux pain that lasted about 4 days and some shoulder blade discomfort I have had really surprisingly very litle pain.

    This weekend I spent all day Sat. and Sunday assisting my daughter at an outdoors craft fair. One of the days her one year old was with us. Other than being very tired I am really still doing well. I go back to see my surgeon this Friday. I only have to wear the soft collar when I want to for comfort. I haven't worn it very much at all. Hopefully when I go see him on Friday the doctor will have xrays taken and they will show that I really am doing as well as I think I am!! My upper arm pain that I had in both arms appears to be just about gone and my thumb is only mildly tingly.

    That's about all I can say about recovery so far. I've been happily surprised! After several surgeries that didn't work (shoulder and back) I am so excited to have one that seems to be working! So far anyway!

  • Great news, Diane. I hope you continue to progress quickly. I think I read in one of your posts earlier how the antcipation was so much worse than the surgery. Well, I can tell you, I have literally gotten myself sick over this decision and developed severe anxiety from it, so I hope to be able to say the same thing when I finally do it and put this nasty anxiety to bed (forever).

    Well, thanks to all who post. We really are in this together and it is so nice of everyone to have their own problems to still help others out. May God bless (and heal) us all. Maria
  • What i think is most important is that you trust and have faith in the surgeon who will be operating on you. I see so many people who do more research on buying a car than they do on the person who holds their future in their hands. Here is a fact about forums such as this. You don't see to many positive stories as those people get busy back with daily living and don't have time to post any longer. Where as those who have had poor outcomes tend to stick around hoping that they will find more technology and things to help them. Even some of the older post you can read where someone was in so much pain and wished they never did surgery, yet they no longer post. That in part is due to the pain has subsided and they are doing better and back to living again. Although they never go back and change that post that they are doing better now.

    Deciding to do a surgery as you are making should never be taken lightly and to many ppl do that as well. Surgery is a very personal choice and what may be right for me may not be for you. I always encourage everyone to go the conservative route as long as they can. If surgery is a must, you need to become educated and have realistic goals in place for yourself and the surgeon. If you feel the surgeon is not answering your questions or you need more clarification keep asking. Remember when it comes down to your health and future there is no dumb question. Another important thing is to find out what type of follow up care you will get and who will be caring for you? Many surgeon do the cutting then never see the patient again. Although we don't want to have issues after surgery but sometimes the fears after surgery of what to do is this normal can all be answered really quickly by a call to the surgeon. Is the surgeon you are going to use going to answers these calls should you need to make one? Be as informed as you can be if surgery is a must and as confident in the person performing the surgery and hopefully you to will be one who is back and busy with that son/daughter you are going to adopt, and teaching them how to care for their spines...jk. Take care and look forward to reading more of your post.
  • Hi - I had my surgery last Friday, spent one night in the hospital and now I'm home. I took 3 weeks off of work, but know my recovery may take longer because I did have 3 levels done. My arm, shoulder and hand pain are gone and I'm relieved because I don't have any more bone spurs pressing into my spinal cord. So far, 3 days post op I'm doing pretty good - eating and sleeping problematic but no more pain! I'm not even taking that much Vicodin. I know my recovery depends on how my fusion goes so I'm going toi be very careful not to twist or bend a lot and wear this godawful cervical collar all the time for at least 2 months. I'm a librarian so I forsee going back to work part-time and just being really careful with posture and lifting books. Good luck with your decision to have surgery or not. Margaret
  • Thank you all again for your insight. Of course, I just saw my neurosurgeon and he said surgery wont help b/c its not hitting on my cord yet. But it is hitting the nerve somehow which is causing my arms and legs to be numb.It is causing me this great anxiety and Im thinking of taking an antidepressant to stop obsessing over it.

    And to Cath, I just read one of your posts about your beloved dog. I am so sorry. I have three dogs and they are my life, so I can imagine how you feel.
    One is getting really old and I have to carry up and down the stairs. It is really sad.

    I am so sorry for you and just wanted to say sorry. I see you always post and help people on here.

    Hope youve found some comfort. Take care, Maria
  • Hi Maria...

    I had an ACDF in March. Your concerns are very real, and understandable. I took 7 weeks off, and then returned to work part time for 2 weeks. I think a lot depends on what you do for a living when it comes to returning to work.

    I am 4 months post-surgery now, and am definitely still recovering. But that does not mean that I am incapacitated during this time. I am back to most normal activities, but I still need to be careful not to overdo it. My neck and shoulders let me know if I do too much. For example, I tried to swim a few laps the other day, and that was a bad idea.

    I am surprised that your surgeon said that surgery wouldn't help since the disc isn't touching your spinal cord yet. Once it gets to your cord, you are risking permanent damage that could be serious. Mine was just nerve damage, and I too had numbness. Have you had a second opinion? Always a good idea to know that you are making the right decision.

    Hang in there!
  • I am 3 weeks, 1 day post op today and just had my first checkup. I have to say, I'm doing a LOT better than I thought I would be at 3 months. The doc is well pleased too. He requested x-rays, and said that I'm exactly where I should be, even a bit better.

    I had a 2 level ACDF and was home 5 hours after surgery began, and that includes a 1 1/2 hour drive home. The first week, I wore a soft collar to remind myself not to look up or down, and I had some discomfort the first few days with swallowing (especially pills, owie) and getting in & out of bed. My husband helped me by putting his hand under my head and guiding me up or down.

    I have fairly good range of motion at this point (I even asked the doc about it, as I thought I wouldn't have this much and was afraid I'd done something wrong). I can turn my head further to the left than before surgery, and nearly as far to the right. I can't put chin to chest yet, but can look up and down fairly well also. He told me that I would be able to go to work a month from now, as long as it didn't involve a lot of heavy lifting, or bending & stretching, etc.

    I've had quite a few health problems, and last year was a nightmare of 4 surgeries (none of them back, though). I spent most of last year recovering, and can tell you that even if you're doing excellent in your recovery you'll still tire a bit easier for a couple months after surgery.

    Having this surgery is a very scary thing, but would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I woke from it in pain from the surgery site, but the pain I'd had in my neck and shoulders was GONE. The shoulder pain creeps in once in a while, but nothing like before, and I may have to deal with that the rest of my life, as I have fibromyalgia to add to the fun.

    If your surgeon is saying that surgery isn't an option, you might want to seek another opinion. If you're in that much pain, and having numbness/tingling, there's a nerve being pinched somewhere and if conservative methods aren't working, surgery SHOULD be an option.

    On a side note, congratulations in advance on your adoption! I hope things progress well for you and you're able to find relief, and able to bring home that bundle of joy!
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