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ACDF Recovery

SamoCPASSamoCPA Posts: 18
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:50 AM in Recovering from Surgery
Hi...just joined today. As my signature (hopefully) shows, I am recovering from ACDF surgery on 1/3/11.

At six weeks post-op, I am surprised to not be farther along (even though I know patience is required for this recovery). Specifically, I was hoping for input on others' experiences with the following aspects of their recovery:

1. Lump in throat --- The first week was awful, then it went away. Now that my neck/chin numbness has decreased considerably (at least I think this is why), the lump in my throat is back. I have no titanium plate, just screws. Mostly, it is annoying, but towards the end of the day it is pretty painful/scary.

2. Sleeping --- I still can't go more than 4 hours or so sleeping without waking up, and can't do more than 8 hours no matter what. Of all the online postings I have reviewed on the variuos sites, I have not come across any discussion of this.

3. Morning pain --- I still have significant pain in the morning (probably why #2 is happening). The more I walk and move around, the more it abates.

Please share your stories, if willing.

Thank you!


  • Please read my comments on the forum which I hope you find helpful. Regards from over the pond in UK.
  • Thanks for the comment, Wonder. I just joined the site today, though, so not quite sure how to read just your posts....
  • MetalneckMetalneck Island of Misfit toysPosts: 1,368
    One question ... Do they have you using a ridgid or soft collar when awake or sleeping?

    Ok one more ... Are they having you wear a bone growth stimulator?

    No plate ... hmmmm.

    Again welcome to S.H.

    Time is our friend and our enemy ....


    Spine-Health Moderator
    Welcome to Spine-Health  Please read the linked guidelines!!  (Click on Welcome to Spine-Health)

  • D,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond and for your comments.

    No collar. And confirming no plate. I don't feel unstable in any way. So I think the multiple sets of screws is my NS preference.

    Just more pain than I was expecting this far out. I didn't mention it in the first post, but I am still on pain meds - though just in the evening (and Tylenol - big whup - in the morning).

    Oh, and yes, I do the bone stim. The model I have, apparently the latest and greatest, is once a day for a half-hour.
  • MetalneckMetalneck Island of Misfit toysPosts: 1,368
    to convelese. Don't be in a big hurry to get back to work. THis is only a suggestion based on my experience of a failed 2 level ACDF 5 years ago ...
    I like a ding a ling and tough guy went back to work
    12 days after my procedure - wound up with a non-union (no fusion).

    I spent the next year and a half of my life in worse pain and getting tested and consulted and retested till I finally found a ortho who said we needed to redo the entire "shabang".

    Don't down play what you have been through, give your body time to heal.

    Its amazing the differences in post surgical treatment modalites that are (or are not) employed ..
    What did your N.S. say about physical therapy??

    Best regards,

    Spine-Health Moderator
    Welcome to Spine-Health  Please read the linked guidelines!!  (Click on Welcome to Spine-Health)

  • I am trying really hard not to be a hero. It's hard, though, given my job (Director of Accounting at a $300m company). I am doing my best to listen to my body and tell others that I need to do this. Reading about your experience certainly helps put things in perspective.

    Treatment differences ARE truly amazing. Funny you should mention PT. I see it all over this forum and my NS has not brought up the subject even once. Perhaps this is because I have no strength loss.

    Just a heck of a lot of pain. And exhausted from lack of sleep. And then there's that damn golf ball in my throat.

    I do know I have things better than many, many others who have gone through this surgery. So I am thankful for that.
  • Wow, that's weird to have 2 levels and no plate? Hummm... as Dave said. You are still very early out of your surgery, and you DID go through major surgery. Your whole spine has to adjust to the now new rigid area in it, as does your body dynamics.

    If I remember right, I had throat issues such as yours for both my C5/6 and then C6/7 and it does normally pass. I have other issues, so won't go there as it isn't relevant here. It probably wouldn't hurt to let your surgeon know what is going on, but try not to freak out unless "he" deems a problem. We all heal at different speeds.

    I see you already know that "patience is a virtue", so you understand that. Try staying with warm soft foods for now, and hopefully it will back off soon. Please keep us posted on how it goes.

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • Thanks for your comments, Brenda.

    I did tell my NS about the lump in the throat. He said that the lump is typical for the first week or so (which I had) but then it goes away. I told him that it was back and he said it was unrelated. He is a well-renowned surgeon, so he's done terrific work in there I'm sure, but to tell me that it is unrelated is clearly false. That's why I turned to the forum for answers.

    By the way, a very nice person on here sent me a Private Message suggesting to go get a Tempurpedic neck pillow, which I did yesterday. I slept 8 hours last night! Still had the morning pain, but hooray!

    So your issues started with a helicopter crash? Are you former military? USNA '92 myself.

  • Greetings Samo!! :)

    I have the TempurPedic adjustable bed thanks to my neck and back - best buy decision I have made! Glad to hear your pillow is helping you.

    It could be you are having muscle spasms in your neck which are affecting your throat, not sure. If it goes past 3 weeks, I would revisit the discussion with your surgeon and see what he says.

    I was bassackwards in that I started having swallowing/voice problems around month 5/6 post op! Come to find my C6 vertebra cracked through, and allowing the hardware to move, and fubar my vocal cords - still going on. The worst of it isn't losing my voice, or the occasional sore throat, but the "choke outs" when I have my head in certain positions, or when drinking liquids - it bites big time!! My ENT is the one that discovered what was going on - while at the same time my NS ignored the crack in the x-ray!!

    Former military (Army) 1979-1989. Then went with the federal government as a law enforcement officer and pilot (jets and helicopters). Didn't fly in the military - wasn't common for women back then. I was offered by another commander to join his unit and he would send me to flight school, my @ss of a commander wouldn't let "his only girl" out of the hanger. Yep, I had 3 MOS's in helicopter maintenance, OH6, OH58 and UH1. :)

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • I am about a month ahead of you as far as recovery is concerned. As far as the swallowing is concerned: I had major issues due to significant swelling post op and needed steroids to decrease in order to even swallow ice cream or applesauce. I am using a different bone stimulator as I have to wear mine 4 hours a day. I was told that it could increase swallowing issues because it increases blood flow to the area which in turn causes swelling. Do not push your self to go back to work. I am pretty sure I went back too early, but I now have a week off. I am concerned when I go back on 2/28 that it will be too much for me. But emotionally I needed to get back. Just curious, how do they complete a ACDF with only screws and not plate. What are the screws used for then?
    Glad you were able to get some sleep. I slept in the recline for 8 weeks because I got more sleep that way. I still use the soft collar for sleeping. Being ache and sore in the am is normal.
    12/9/2010 ACDF C5-6 C6-7 with plate, screws,
    BMP & bone fragment filled cages
    6 weeks no bone growth
    2/14/2011 went to go back to work as a teacher
    2/17/2011 starting PT
    wearing bone stimulator 4 hours a day (Cervical Stim)
    DDD, arthritis, herniated disks, pinched nerves
  • Take it easy friend. I'm glad you found the perfect device to help you sleep. I still have trouble sleeping and have to adjust my pillow throughout the night. I'm also very curious about your not having plates or hardware, But glad you are stable. Technique vary from Dr to Dr.

    The lump and trouble swallowing will get better. I think it was the poster Sunny who had the lump in her throat for quite some time....but it did get better. Maybe she'll pop in and give you some encouragement.
  • Thanks to you all for your comments. I was off the site for a few days, feeling down in the dumps as sleep and pain issues have returned. So glad I got back on today; I am already feeling better emotionally for having done it.

    As I understand it from the NS, the screws are screwed directly into the spine. Two on each side, one 45 degrees above horizontal, one 45 degrees below horizontal (such that they are at 90 degree angles from one another). Seems to work fine, but from what I am reading on this site, different from everyone else.

    As for working, what I am now finding is that how I feel physically is in direct proportion to the stress level. So if I am working from home, just doing email and the like, I can work a full day. But if I am in the office, having a pressure-cooker day full of meetings and ergonomic navigation, then I get very tired and very sore. Monday was a day like that and I am still paying for it.

    It's kind of a vicious cycle. If I get a lot of rest, then I turn around and overdo it, thus then requiring another period of a lot of rest.

  • I had 4, 5,6,& 7 fused 8 weeks ago. Titanium plate and screw through front of my neck. I have a lot of trouble swolling and, it had not improved in the last 3 weeks. Worse, my SHOULDERS are killing me (never had this problem prior to surgery) and, I cannot move my neck to the left side without severe pain. Again, I healed to a point, but in the last 3 weeks NOTHING is working. I had the cervical collar on as directed and, swithced to a soft one for night. I find if I don't wear this soft collar, my head and neck feel like they weigh 1,000 pounds. I told the doc (orthopedist) about my shoulders and he acted like nothing was wrong. YES, there is, but I am getting no help. I do not wish to continue to live with more pain now than I had before. I am not seeing a pt because they seem to mess you up more than they help, espcially when they think "it's all in your head re; shoulder pain and literally a pain in the neck". I am using a bone stimulator and, when I went to the doc yesterday he said :two areas are sort of regrowing (?) what?? and, the 3rd area isn't. Futher, you have another disc thats completely "shot", but, since it didnt have a spur, we didn't fix it".......whew......My doc refuses to communicate with me and, acts like I AM to blame??!!...how defensive! I am trying to get all of my records to go to a neurosurgeon. I am miserable, and, though this doc HATES controlled drugs, he became so dismissive and defensive when I simply questioned him about my lack of impovment in the last 3 weeks, that he simply wrote me an RX for more Oxyc. (which I really can't take!), this is apparently the way his "denial" system works. I am NOT blaming him, but just want answers. Can anyone help . I am new and don't know how to get my messages to the right people, but hopefully someone out there will help me. Further, I have to have my BACK operated on due to two herinaged disc and spinal stenosis, etc. I have lived in pain sooo long; had all the injections (back and neck) and, steriods, etc. I am told I must have a spinal fusion....whew....this is too much. The cervical fusion has made me very worried about futher treatment and, all the docs do NOT want to say anything derogatory about another doc, so we get to where we have to go from doc to doc to TRY and ascertain WHAT is BEST FOR ME ?! I wish they would communicate better especially AFTER the surgery. Help
  • how dare the doc tell you the "lump" isn't related. Of course it is! I am six weeks post op and, though I can swollow, it does interfer with eating, etc. The first 2 weeks, really awful, now it's as good as it will be, meaning I AM aware of it and, at night lying down on my side, it seems to "get in the way", it is very uncomfortable and reminds me "IT IS like a ball in my throat". I was thinking about the temperpedic pillow. Is there a particular place or band that you purchased? Advise. (I had #4,5,6,&7 fused along with titanium plate, screws, etc). I never heard of anyone having FOUR discs fused. If anyone out there has had this done, please write me
  • I think seeing a neurosurgeon is a great idea. From what you write, you might not be just dealing with post-op issues. What I do is write down a very methodical list of questions to go over with mine, as I think of them (and as things change). That way, when I actually see him, I am sure all of my questions are answered.

    Oh, and as to the pillow (your other post), I threw the box out but I think Tempurpedic is the actual brand name. I got mine at the local Relax the Back store.

    Good luck, and hang in there. One of the reminder lessons I got by logging on today is that having a positive attitude (best you can muster, of course) makes a huge difference.

  • SAMCO CPA: (and others):I am actually a very patient, patient (lol). I have been through many different surgeries, including laminectomy, discectomy & fromotomy (sp)about 20 years ago on my lower back. I had a NS who was great (he was in CA and is now deceased..drat). My back was so messed up he did not do a fusion, but had to reattach all the nerves that had grown outside my spinal collum due to so much damage. I was and am 75% better from that and, very thankful I didn't end up in a wheelchair! I have always gone in with a positive attitude (including this surgery), however, THIS doc is extremely non communicative and defensive. I DO have a list of questions, but he says things like "we already discussed this".....(yikes! NOT TRUE). Bottom line, my neck hurts all the time and there is definitely an "area" that isn't "right". It is impossible for me to read, sit upright for too long, etc., without putting back on my soft collar. As far as the golf ball in my throat..it's annoying, especially at night or when I switch positions and/or eat. My twin sister had this surgery (in CA) last year and could not swollow for over ONE month. She lost 20 pounds. The doctors all have a different "story" re this issue. I've tried massage because the doc recommended it. When I asked him if his PT could do this and he said: "NO, since insurance doesn't pay, we don't do this!".....wow, I really believe my doc is all about $$ and is extremely busy, therefor does NOT make the time to answer my q's. I WILL take a tape recorder with me next time, as I do not want acquasations that "I already told you this....!". It's a shame SOME docs are happy to do the surgery but god forbid you have a problem or q...I am simply ignored or made to believe it's in my head! Yeah, the neck IS attached to the head. I WILL get a termpedic pillow, but have no hope of this improving anymore than it already is, which is unacceptable. I was a runner and an athlete, now I can't even walk more than a few blocks without horrible pain. I will see a ns as soon as I can get my records and an appt. And, since I was told and shown another disc that is completely shot, which he did NOT fix, I still am looking a further neck /cervical surgery. Hang in there to all of you who have unresolved issues.
  • How are you doing? Haven't seen a post from you. Hope all is okay.
  • Thanks, Frenchfri. I am still doing the two steps forward, one step back drill. Worked a full day from the office both Thursday and Friday. And I paid for it yesterday. Scheduled to go back full time 3/1. I sent the NS a note to extend the intermittant return to work. I just don't think I am ready for all day, everyday, forever quite yet.

    I hope all is well with you. I'll look at your other posts (looking at this one first) to see if you've posted how you are doing. If not, reply here. I'd love to hear an update.

    Oh, one other thing: I still have numbness under my chin (but confusingly, not as much at the incision site). You have that?

  • Just came upon your original post - sorry I missed it in the last few weeks! I hope you are doing better today and sorry you still have unresolved issues post-op. I can't comment on the swallowing issue as I had that minimally the 1st week and then not again fortunately from what I am reading! I hope that does ease up for you! I also got the tempurpedic pillow and love it! I also had major sleep issues even with my great pillow! Very restless with shoulder spasms for the 1st 4-5 weeks I finally talked to my Neurosurgeon's PA and they told me to take Valium instead of the Robaxim and it worked like a charm - knocked me out within 15 minutes of taking it and full nights sleep. I took it for a few weeks only at night and worked great and although I am still have muscle issues during the day - not keeping me awake at night! My personal opinion especially after major surgery is the body needs sleep the most to recoop and if you are not getting the rest you need your body will not heal as fast!
    I have a similar job - work for major corporation - 10 hour days with sometimes 2 hour communtes each way depending on where I have to be on a particular day. I have not returned to work at all as I know it will be completely back in the rat race with little time for me once I do .. so definitely make sure you are ready to return fully - just my advice!
    Even though you did not have muscle weakness (I still have it and may not get it all back) I still think PT is so beneficial if you get a good person that knows your normal routine to teach you good techniques for your neck going forward. My PT guy is doing the massaging and conditioning with excercises and has given me so much helpful info on how to care for my small children and my demanding job and not kill my neck - now of course it is up to me to incorporate it into my life - LOL! He actually is releasing me from PT this week - I plan to return to work full time on March 14th - he wants me to work a few weeks and then come back and let him know how it is going and see if I need him to take any "kinks" out .. very thankful I found him!
    Anyway again hope you are and continue to do better! Talk to you soon!
  • Thanks, Mary.

    I'll look into the PT. Now that I think about it, I didn't have a major car or other accident that blew my discs out and compressed them on my spinal cord...just routine ergonomic screwin' up over many, many years. So, you're right, make s/he can teach me how to move around so I don't screw up the discs above and below C5 and C7 in the future. One of these surgeries is certainly enough for me!

  • Hope you are doing okay. I haven't been on too much since i was working this week, very exhausting. Just trying to make it through each work day. Still in my pj's at 1 PM.
  • I do definitely recommend the PT to help for future but I can tell you what my PT guy shared and that is good posture at all times. He said the posture is the most important to keep the other disks in place - when posture not good it puts pressure on the disks and since there is already now pressure on the disks above and below from the hardware - he said the posture is so much more important. He was very funny about it saying for woman - that means sitck the chest out and head up - and of course making it a joke - my husband now of course loves reminding me. For men he said carry the weight of stress on their shoulders and usually slouch .. he also said lift with the core .. never lift just with arms and never reach and lift or lift anything heavy above your head. Just thought I would share with you some tips I got ... I do not have any magic insight on how to have good posture after 40 years of not having good posture .. if you figure that one out please share.. I think I'll start a thread asking all for their input!
    Take Care - hope you have a good week!
  • Thanks. One thought I just had when I read you last post. I friend of mine practices what is called the Alexander technique --- teaches you posture, how to get up and sit down without stressing your spine, etc. I saw her a while ago (way before things progressed to the point of surgery). I think I'll call her again. And maybe someone in your aread does this?

    All the best,
  • I'll have to check around .. or maybe online! Hope you are doing well! I am released to work for Monday so excited to get life back to normal but nervous.. I have not been to work in 6 months - 1st out to care for my son and then my surgery - UGH! I am dreading on where to begin with getting caught up !!
  • I will search the web to find out exactly what the Alexander technique is and see if it will be helpful for me. On thing my PT guy told me about the car which caused me the most discomfort was: don't adjust your mirror when you notice that you are not seeing exactly the same out of the rear view mirror. It means that you have slouched and need to reposition your self. So now I constantly look in my rear view mirror to make sure I am stilling up nice and tall and not slouching. It seems to have helped a bit or it is just time.
  • I am glad to see I'm not the only one with pain 5 weeks after my ACDF and my Nuero has kind of dismissed my concerns also and I'll get scared that I'm doing something wrong cause of the pain, and he dismissed me again. I have lots of questions and concerns because I was sent home from hospital with no directions just to stay with family and to rest. I really have looked to these articles and posts for any direction. Kinda scary! I'll make another appt. I have good list of questions that make me feel confident that there will be an awnser to, that will make the difference for me in recovery. I bring my notes and Nuero still assures that X-rays are good and to rest and take it easy he's does not care what I read on the Internet. I see others say the same things I feel, for example, someone suggested Valuim for the tightness and spasms in back. Im not near as tense! One of many tips I've got from the wonderful members of this site. Thank all of you for suggestions and sharing your experience I know I'm not a wuss! Recovery is on us, I feel that the Neuro feels like he fixed me so when I go back concerned, he almosts takes it personal offence to it. We have to trust our bodies and if you feel that something is not right you go get a new Dr if anything for peace of mind.
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