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Neck surgery post op info and tips

sunny1966ssunny1966 VIRGINIAPosts: 1,385
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:40 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I'm not scheduled for surgery yet but I'm afraid that will be the suggestion and I'd like to know all I can before I even talk about it. I'm just wondering what kind of things are the hardest after surgery. Especially for impatient patients! I've read a lot about post op ideas for lumbar surgeries but not as much about neck. What kind of things did you have problems with that you really didn't expect? I know that all surgeries and patients are different. Thanks for any stories or suggestions.



  • I didn't expect the severe nerve pain I had that night. My surgeon told me my decompressed nerves were screaming. I had to go on Lyrica. Also didn't expect to be so weak, had to use a shower chair and needed help washing my back.

    But despite those things, I have never regretted having it done and most days I forget it was done.

    Best wishes,

  • sunny1966ssunny1966 VIRGINIAPosts: 1,385
    That's exactly the kind of things I want to know. I appreciate it. I want to be more informed and know more what questions to ask when I see the NS. I'm not certain he'll suggest surgery but I want to be prepared.
    Did you have to wear a collar? Do most neck surgery patients have to wear one? Was it difficult to wash and dry your hair? How long before you could wear a pullover shirt?
    Thanks again. I'm glad to hear that you don't regret the surgery. I think after living (or trying to live) with it for so many years I've had about enough.
    Oh yeah, how long before you could mow the lawn (pushmower), work in the garden, paint, etc? I ask because I do all these things starting in May. I love outdoors in summer.
  • My NS didn't prescribe a collar, thank goodness. He felt it made the muscles weak. It's your surgeon's preference. I used a shower hose to wash my hair, had to use other arm to comb it, but didn't bother with blow drying for a while. I wore t-shirts from the start, but purchased front clasp bras. I have other physical problems regarding my lumbar spine so the other activities you mention I always have difficulty with. Painting though, be careful with bending your head backwards for too long, recommend lots of breaks and stretching.


  • Like Marianne, I didn't blow dry for a month or more (I had my hair cut short before surgery) and wore t-shirts, lounge pants and crocs or slippers.

    I did have to wear a hard collar for the first four weeks and ten a soft collar for the next eight. Docs have become very individual in their thinking regarding collar vs. no collar. I was glad to have mine just because it made me feel more secure and protected. But if I hadn't had to wear one, I'm sure I wouldn't have wished I had, either.

    Expect a sore throat at the very least. Some people have had problems with swallowing also, so try to know ahead of time if you'll be able to crush or cut the meds you get post-op in half to help get them down. Some people swear by Chloriseptic spray and/or hard candies to soothe their throat. You might want to stock up on some soft items just in case, too, and I've found that having some Ensure around is handy for those times when you don't feel like eating but need the vitamins and minerals of a meal. Ensure has all the essentials required for one meal.

    Take home the tub that will be in your hospital room to use when you brush your teeth. You shouldn't bend, so put the tub under your chin to spit in when you brush your teeth. (Boy, sometimes it's just the little things, huh?)

    Keep up on your meds and take them as prescribed when you get home. If you don't and your pain gets ahead of you, you'll have a hard time getting it back under control. This is most important the first couple of weeks.

    Boredom...there will be boredom. Your recovery time CANNOT be used as a time to catch up on housework. You're going to have restrictions that you must follow or risk having your surgery fail. No BLT (bending lifting twisting), but also no vacuuming, dusting, raking, gardening - nothing. And that's when the boredom sets in so be prepared to have some things around to help. I played games on my Nintendo DS (great to keep the mind active when the body isn't), had a Netflix account, had crossword puzzle books, etc.

    And like Marianne said, be prepared to be very tired and to tire easily for quite a while. Cervical surgery is major surgery and must be considered as such.

    Oh, and I also had a shower chair. I could take my collar off to shower, but I felt to vulnerable to bend my head at all so my hubby washed my hair and did the body washing and drying. I was too tired to have stood, so the stool was great. By the way, hubby and I found it to be a great bonding time. :-)

    I'm sure I'll think of more, but so will a bunch of others.

  • sunny1966ssunny1966 VIRGINIAPosts: 1,385
    Thanks Cathie and Eve. These are things I want to hear about. I know all the 'major' things to be prepared for but it's usually the little things that'll get you after most surgeries.
    How about headaches? I have a lot of headaches from my neck. Could I expect to have them or maybe worse right after surgery (of course assuming I have surgery)?
    Thanks again. All of these tips help. Brushing teeth...I wouldn't have thought of that.
    What kind of movement causes the most pain? If you think of anything else I'll be glad to hear it.
  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 9,846
    I had much better success right after both of my ACDFs then I did with all my lumbar surgeries.
    I still remember as if it was yesterday (but it was 1994 and 2000) that how uncomfortable, headaches, tingling, pain I had prior to the surgery and the night after the surgery all those symptoms were gone.
    I went home wearing a Philadelphia Hard collar. I had to wear it 24x7 for about 7 weeks. Having two collars was good for me, so I can let one 'air' out a bit.

    I was more uncomfortable when I first got home. We picked up a foam wedge which I used while sleeping on a separate twin bed. That made a big difference. I also spent many nights sleeping in a recliner.

    Food wise, cold and soft. It was the best excuse for loading up on vanilla icecream, but Italian Ices, almost anything cold felt good.

    A good portion of my recovery was spent alone, which was fine. I had a phone right near bye and the TV Remote. Luckily for me, I didnt have the Thinkpads I have today, or I would have spent a lot of time on the computer, which I know would have hurt me.

    Sometimes the scariest moments was when I took off the hard collar to shower. It felt as if my neck was just going to collapse. I was always careful about moving around, didnt want to fall, etc.

    When the collar started to come off and Physical Therapy started, I was more 'cautious' of my neck situation than any pain or discomfort. Back then, my doctor had me wearing a soft collar. So, in total I had about 13 weeks wearing a collar. I know that practice is not always used today.

    Today, years after my ACDF here are my biggest complaints:

    1- Cant swim the way I did before. I can not move my head back and forth.

    2- Computer time limited, but with all spinal surgery, that is limited.

    3- Driving. I can not move my head much to the left. To the right I am ok, but when I enter a highway or change lanes, its tough since I sometimes have to guess. I have one of those large rear view mirrors which help, but nothing helps as much as hearing a horn honk indicating that I am in someone's way.

    4- Can not put a pair of paints under my chin to start to fold them. When I do, there is too much space between my neck and chin, so the pants just slide on down.

    5- And this one, I know Debbie you will related to and I know you will experience. Once things start to feel ok, and the weather is nice, going outside to 'get dirty' in the soil and garden, that would leave me with a sore neck and big headache.

    Today, I have sort of a barometer to know whats happening with my neck. First, my hands get hot and some of my fingers start to tingle. Then I have some burning stabbing pain at the base of my neck.. If I watch myself it will end at that, otherwise, I go into major headache mode which can last a number of days

    Debbie, as hard as it is, just dont push yourself, dont try to do everything yourself. With Lumbar surgery, I knew that I COULDNT do certain things, because of pain and discomfort. With the cervical situation, the pain and discomfort came AFTER I did something I shouldnt have

    Take care my friend, listen to your body, behave and you will do fine

    Ron DiLauro Spine-Health System Administrator
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences
    You can email me at: rdilauro@veritashealth.com
  • is the near-constant pain I am now experiencing in my rt. shoulder and arm. Before surgery, all I really had was numbness and tingling, but now I have this pain, with occasional tingling. I'm starting to get concerned and will call my ns if it doesn't let up soon.

    Everything else that pp's wrote, I agree with. I didn't have all the restrictions mentioned, but like they said every dr. is different.

    Good luck!

    Karen (aka yasmina)
  • SpineAZSpineAZ WiscPosts: 1,084
    The ACDF actual surgery was relatively easy. They don't go through muscle so there's not that typical pain of surgery (such as occurs in low back or abdominal surgery). I was so glad to have an Aspen collar. Some doctor's don't use it, but my doctor says it's worth it. I felt I was supported by it and it also stopped me from doing things I should not do.

    Some people have a sore throat after ACDF as they move your esophagus when the do the surgery. I was lucky in that it was minor. I was in the hospital for 2 nights. The first night I was eating popsicles and cepacol lozenges for my throat. By night two I didn't need either and ate a pretty hearty meal.

    At home I just made sure everything I needed was within reach without having to bend. I put underwear on my dresser so I didn't have to bend down to get to the drawers, etc. Made sure stuff I needed in the fridge was within reach and milk was in a smaller container as I didn't want to lift a gallon.

    For sleeping I just took every pillow we owned and every day figured out which set up was most comfortable. The best purchase was a sleep wedge (Bed Bath and Beyond and similar stores or online). It's a 7" wedge and I got two. Makes it easy to elevate. It helped my husband after his tonsillectomy as well!
    2 ACDFs, 2 PCDF, 3 LIFs; Rt TKR; Rt thumb fusion ; Lt thumb arthroplasty; Ehlers Danlos 
  • sunny1966ssunny1966 VIRGINIAPosts: 1,385
    I appreciate all the suggestions. You know me very well. The hardest part for me is letting others do for me.
    I'm not sure that surgery will even be suggested but I'll admit that I'm so tired of this pain that something is going to have to give. I have to be getting shorter...my head feels like it's down between my shoulders more everyday. lol.
    Do you feel like you have more ROM than you would have had if you hadn't had surgery?
    Thanks Ron.
  • sunny1966ssunny1966 VIRGINIAPosts: 1,385
    I hope that you're feeling better. Are you still having so much pain? Have you talked to your ns?

    It's only been about 6 wks since your surgery right? Hopefully you'll improve soon.

    Take care,
  • sunny1966ssunny1966 VIRGINIAPosts: 1,385
    Thanks for the info. Do you have any neck pain now?

    Thankfully IF I do have surgery my son has all of his college classes online this semester so I'd have someone with me. He would be a big help. I'm anxious to see what the NS has to say and don't know what I want him to say you know?

    Thanks again.
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