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Seeking Recovery Tips - 2-level ACDF

amosaamos Posts: 18
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:52 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery

Hey Gang -

I had surgery roughly two weeks ago - 3.24. It was a 2-level ACDF (C-5-7), complete with bone graft and plating. I'm trying to get a sense for how I should be feeling right now re: my recovery. Thus far, I've been able to move around - take short walks, run a short errand (someone else driving), and fix myself food. As long as I don't do a lot of bending, I seem to be OK. I've cut down to about 3 Vicodin a day, plus Advil.

My main issues are with overall stiffness - I have a hard time moving my head up and down - ie. hurts to look at a clock, grab cereal on the top shelf, bend down to kiss my son, etc. And, sleep hurts - I wake up several times in the night feeling like I messed up my neck - lots of cricks. My husband bought me a recliner the first day I came home (best gift EVER), and that has been fabulous - I alternate between that and a bed.

My NS is a man of few words, so I’m wondering if I could hit you up for some additional ideas/suggestions/advice. If any of you have the time to answer a few of the questions below, I’d greatly appreciate it!

1. I know that a big con of this surgery is that it can cause issues with the spine above/below the fusion. What is the best way to avoid this? Do any of you have a routine that is helpful to keeping your operated-on spine in good shape? (ie. stretching, yoga, no running, etc?)

2. When did you start PT? Find it helpful? When is it harmful?

3. Can you recommend any sleeping tips that won't mess up my neck? Is there a 'wrong' way to sleep?

4. Did any of you experience more curvature (ie. hump) on your back after surgery? (Not sure if this is permanent or just due to swelling. Weird.)

5. I'm using a heating pad in my recliner for my 'ow' moments. Any other tips? Wondering if gentle stretches would help. Or – massage? The rest of my back is overcompensating, I'm sure. Sore, sore, sore.

6. When does the stiffness go away? I know the benchmark for healing is a year – did you find it took that long to feel ‘normal’ again?

I really don't have a sense for what is overdoing it and what is not. I go by my pain level, but I just don't want to be stupid about it. I want to give myself the best chance for recovery. Looking into supplements, too. Doctors didn’t seem to think that was very important.

Thanks to all of you for your input. Wishing you all amazing, glorious health!


37-yrs old
Stenosis, herniated discs
C 5-7 ACDF on 3.24



  • There is no such reality as a normal recovery. You are still very early in your recovery. It takes a long time to heal. Your body has been through major surgery and probably a long time of injury and pain prior.Take your time and don't push yourself. You only have one neck.
    I slept on the recliner for about 8 weeks because it was more comfortable and I felt I slept better. Do you wear a collar or a bone growth stimulator? I found ice worked better for me after a hot shower in the morning. Still have some pain, knots in my shoulder and pain that radiates from shoulder to shoulder.

    I am hopeful that in one year post surgery I will have much more strength, great ROM and be able to complete takes without taking breaks due to pain, knots and spasms. I also want to be able to drive my son college in August (8 hours) and enjoy the achievement. Everyone is different.

    At 6 weeks I was still very weak, no strength and very little ROM. At 10 weeks I think I saw a major difference with ROM and some strength. I only wore a soft collar after I think 4 weeks except all the time when I slept or in a car and at times when I was sore and achy. PT certainly helped. I try and complete a few exercises many times during the day. Just take your time and be careful with your neck. You only have one. I keep reminding my self of that.

    I kept a journal of questions and symptoms that concerned me throughout my pre and post op time. I continue to. It is important to know what symptoms you have, when they happen (what were you doing prior to pain), how long they last and what helped alleviate them. I never thought that they recovery would take this long. I want to sleep well though the night, wake up without aches and pains and not limited ROM until I exercise. I thought I would be able to clean my house and do all the laundry without issues....not yet.
    Hope this helps. If yo have other specific questions let me know.
    Time will tell. Again it is treatable.
    12/9/2010 ACDF C5-6 C6-7 with plate, screws,
    BMP & bone fragment filled cages
    2/14/2011 trying to go back to work as a teacher
    2/17/2011 starting PT
    wearing bone stimulator 4 hours a day
    DDD, arthritis, herniated disks, pinched nerves
    3 months saw a little bit of bone growth (YEAH)
    4/9/2011 ROM much better, still achy and stiff in the am
    dealt with pain for 5 years before surgery
    tried PT, acupuncture, cervical epidurals and selective nerve root blocks
  • The one thing I can tell you is follow the doctors orders. When he/she thinks it is okay for physical therapy they will send you. If your still having issues with spasms and the knots, you might want to take a muscle relaxer. I always found my muscle relaxers I just couldn't go without. The one thing I can say is most important is walking. You need to set up a walking program that you can measure and keep track of. I like the 10,000 steps which you can find on the net. But walking will do a lot for your recovery and help keep your over all strength. When you walk work on your posture. Also when your sitting be sure to work on your posture. Posture will help in many ways to strengthen back up the muscles in your neck and it can help with adjacent disc disease. While there is noway to tell whom will have adjacent disc failure, you can do the simple things with proper mechanics to help.

    My surgeon didn't order physical therapy for me for sometime, but had a stability issue and stayed in a miami j for 3 months. But when it is the right time they will order it. You can call and ask if you can do some massage therapy and see what they say. Your GP should be guiding your on any supplements you need for your general health. I think it is always important to have vitamin D levels checked, and the correct dosage established for your needs.

    As the other poster said you are still early in recovery, so listen to your body and what it is telling you, but I would get to the walking, and working on your core body strength.
  • Hey amos - I just posted my condition this morning but I'll be glad to answer what I can. Like I mentioned I'm at 11 days, 3/30. My soft collar came off on Friday (around the house only) and is allowed to come off outside the house today. Doc told me I can try to drive today too. Suggested I try a parking lot to see how I feel. Let me take a shot at your questions (as a patient, NOT an expert!)

    First, though let me preface to say I'm pretty athletic and had some athletic-type surgeries so one thing I finally got through my THICK head after 3 knee scopes, one achilles tear, and one foraminotomy that was (hopefully / finally) cleared up via last week's fusion is that all people are different and all heal different.

    1) That's a doc question. I asked about that "domino effect" that I read on this forum and he told me the other discs look very good and he doesn't expect any issues. Again, ask him/her.

    2) Was told given this surgery is anterior (thru the throat) that PT isn't necessary. And, my doc isn't some schmuck. He actually designed the plate used in my neck that's used nationally by other neck/spine surgeons.

    3) Great question. I went to a medical store and bought for $30 bucks or so a cervical pillow. It's great. It has a small lip that naturally forms to your neck and allows your head to rest inside the pillow.

    No answers for 4 thru 6. I have some aches back there but it's not that bad. Doc told me I can lift light weight but I'll hold off on that. I was told I can use the elliptical machine and plan to do so today.

    There is one thing that's supposedly helping me is this electronic thingy that he's put on my neck. This thing supposedly promotes healing ACDF surgeries and studies have shown this to be the case. I wear this thing all the time. I'm due back on 5/27 and he believes if I wear this as much as I have been doing (24x7) that I'll be fully fused by then.

    Good luck!
  • Thanks to all of you for your responses, and time. Really means a lot to get this kind of support. Strong, healthy vibes your way! Amy
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