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ACDF on May 16th. Have a few questions and need advice for post-op recovery.

BrihtwulfBBrihtwulf Posts: 69
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:53 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hello Everyone,

My C5-C6-C7 ACDF surgery is scheduled for next week, and I'm wondering if anyone has some advice or suggestions for things to be aware of, careful of, etc. for after my surgery. Are there things they usually don't tell you that I should know about? It seems that happens often with surgeries that things don't always go as the doctor describes or expects.

I read online that the usual hospital stay for this type of surgery is 2-3 days. However, my doctor said I could probably be going home the next day. Is that typical, or is he just trying to make me feel better about the post-op situation? I'll of course be wearing a collar for several weeks after the surgery as well. Is there anything I should be aware of concerning that or things they don't always tell you when you have it?

Are there many differences or things to be aware of when it's a multilevel procedure vs. a single-level?

Is there anything different to be aware of if they are also removing several bone spurs from the vertebrae? Does that add additional complications or pain?

How much time do most people spend resting like reclining/lying down after the surgery? Is it better to be lying or reclining or is sitting up better for any reason?

Is there anything I should consider getting to make my life easier while I recover? Any things like little tools or devices that come in really handy?

Thanks everyone!



  • HI JJ...I am 3 wks post-op yesterday from a similar surgery of yours...I had a ACDR(artificial disc) at level C5-6 and ACDF(fusion) at level C6-C7...so I don't have multi level fusion but I did have 2 discs worked on in one surgery...everyone recovers from surgery differently...but I've read that cervical fusions are WAY easier then any other type of spinal fusion...ok first know that your throat is going to be sore for a few weeks and it will be hard to take meds so you will want to take them with yogurt or pudding with a sip of water afterward...this is due not only to the breathing tube they put down during surgery but in my case they did the surgery Anterior(from front) and had to move my esophagus over to get to the discs...so after 3 weeks it's just now getting back to feeling normal...still have some trouble at times swallowing meds...that's why I use yogurt...I was due for a 3 day stay but was doing so well compared to before surgery that I was only in the hospital until the next afternoon!!! For me my recliner is the BEST...you can sit up if you feel like it or lay back if you feel like it...you will have to listen to your body and neck...as for the collar in my situation I wore it non stop(except for showering but even needed help then)for the first 2 wks...then at my 2 wk check up he lifted that restriction to only wearing it when I feel like it...when I'm in a car(don't plan on driving any time soon I was told to expect to have a chauffeur for about 8 wks I was told)..when I'm sleeping...and when I'm walking...you will be exhausted for around 6 wks I've been told and it is true thus far...you are feeling good then all of a sudden you need a nap:) The first 2wks are the worst and that's when your suppose to be doing ALOT of resting...As for walking try to do as much "toodling" around your house as you can first two wks but listen to your body and if you can't...don't worry sleep helps healing...after my restrictions were lifted and he said I could walk on stable ground...I try one mile a day 5 days a wk...you might be a bit sore than I'm describing since you are having bone spurs removed...anytime they shave bone off there is pain...so there may be a bit more pain then if you were just having the fusion...but I could be wrong...you might not feel any difference at all...make sure you have a small table next to where you'll be and put all your stuff on there...I didn't use the grabber devise that I was given because I was able to move and felt that was "some" exercise by moving...plus I saw if I moved a little bit during the first two wks I felt less tight around my shoulders...all across the back of my shoulders were as sore as my neck...I had nerve problems with my L arm so the pain there was MUCH MUCH less...from an 8 with meds to a 5ish with meds...best of luck!!!! Keep us updated...
  • Here's my two cents:

    I was only in the hospital about 36 hours. Once home, I was in the recliner for several weeks. Sleeping was very difficult (no collar for me). After 'graduating' to bed, I got a tempurpedic pillow which helped immensely.

    Swallowing issues were annoying for several months, but I realize now that this was my body telling me to slow down.

    I am 4 months post-op now; other than losing my patience about how long it takes to be FULLY fused, I am doing fine. Walking 2+ miles a day, which for me is key.

    Good luck.
  • I just had my surgery about 2 weeks ago. I think I was very lucky that my recovery is going along very quickly. I'm a 41-yr-old asian, petite at 120lbs, was very active as in doing elliptical nearly every day and hiking occassionally. Maybe that all contributed.

    I was in the hospital one night. My surgery took 5 hours instead of 3 1/2. But I think my doctor (EDITED) was extremely careful and a perfectionist. So he wanted to make sure the titanium brackets when in just right. I had excellent care.

    The day of surgery, all I could eat was ice chips. Even a sip of water made me feel like I was drowning. I had no desire for food for the first 4 days or so.

    The 1st day after surgery, they had me up walking around with a walker very slowly. They used a bone filler in my hip called, mosaik putty, which was supposed to reduce the healing time of the hip (which supposedly hurts worse than the neck) down from several months of pain to a couple of weeks. It will eventually get replace with my real bone over time. My pain just felt like I had just really worked my hip muscle too hard and just ached a little to put pressure on it. I could still walk on it fine though.

    That day was also when the painkillers from the anesthesia had worn off so my neck, hip, and throat hurt more. My throat hurt more than anything. I did not want to even drink. They gave me broth that was soothing and about the only thing I could drink. Sweet liquids felt like they coated my throat I instantly felt like I was choking. But I found that if I just gulped my water (including with lots of air), I was able to get pain pills down. So that meant I could get off the IV and go home. I had no nausea (I also barely ate the day before surgery, which might have helped. I had jello for dinner the night before)

    After getting home, that night, I was still itching like crazy (felt like a sunburn itch all over - even in my nostrils). I felt like I had a huge lump in my throat and chicken broth/stock was all I could sip. I slept in my recliner for about 4 nights because leaning back further made my throat feel like it was closing up and I would wake up gasping for air. I needed help getting up to go the restroom or do anything. I would highly recommend making sure there is someone around those first few days.

    The 2nd day after surgery, I felt much much better. I was able to get around by myself, very slowly. I wore my neck brace only when I was not in my recliner. I could not eat anything sweet or creamy (not even otter pops). I was basically starving since I had a hard time drinking anything. By the end of the day, I discovered that I could eat instant mashed potatoes as long as I followed each bite with water (or sugar free drinks like Zip Fizz). I was also able to eat some Easy Mac. My total intake of food was probably about half a cup for the day. But after eating somewhat solid foods, I felt more energized. Being up for more than 5-10 minutes made nauseated and dizzy.

    The 3rd day after, I switched from 2 percocet to 1 and started taking valium since I was having some shoulder pain. When I ate, I felt a muscle pulling all the way to my shoulder blade! The Valium helped a lot and cutting back on the percocet reduced the itching significantly. Oh and with muscle pains, definitely use a moist heat pack! It took that pain away almost instantly! I constantly iced my incisions too.

    It was amazing how exhausting it was to eat a tiny quarter cup of mashed potatoes! I started snoring really loudly in the recliner. My honey in the other room even recorded me because I was so loud! I also found that if I reclined back too far too soon after eating, I got some acid reflux, which also felt like a nice acidic lump in my throat.

    The 4th day after, I did finally get a shower. I took off my brace for that and was extremely careful not to move my head around as I shampooed. That also mean I got to take off the outer layer of bandages on my neck and hip and I had to cover them with tape and saran wrap. I found a big numb spot under my chin. The doctor said that might take a few months to go away.

    Day 5 I had minimal hip pain. the throat swelling was going down. I was able to eat half a grilled cheese sandwich (with lots of water to follow each bite). I was able to eat hard candies and even ice cream! I went outside and walked with the help of my honey as a crutch and we probably ended up walking half a mile stopping a various restaurants along the way.

    Since the throat swelling was down quite a bit, I was able to lie in my regular bed. My neck ached but I only needed 2 pillows. And I got up every 4 hours to make sure I took my pain pills. I also started snoring a weird irregular snore, so I think my throat was still having issues, but not as bad.

    Day 6 we went back to the nurse to get my bandages removed. She said I can shower now without covering the incisions. But no ointment for 3 weeks! I felt so good that I went out for a pedicure!

    Day 7 was my turning point. I felt 90% fine. I was taking my pain pills every 6-8 hours, was working on my laptop (actually I started that on day 2) from my recliner and felt like I was able to do anything. I started using trekking poles and they really helped me get around quicker with less pain on my hips. I had no pains anywhere. If I did feel a pain because I was late on my pain meds, it only felt like a stiff neck and the pain meds took care of that.

    It has been 2 weeks now and I hardly wear my brace. I don't feel any pain. I stopped all of my pain pills a couple of days ago. Now my incisions itch like crazy and I still can't use anything but benedryl. But other than that, I am able to cook, do some light shopping (no more than 5 pounds), and I can walk for a mile or so with my trekking poles with no problem. I feel ready to go back to work, but the doctor still won't let me. I can eat anything now and too. Aside from the itching, I've been bending over fine and doing everything I did before except exercising other than walking.

    So I would say it was only bad for the first couple of days. The rest of the week was tolerable. And now I'm pretty much on disability vacation for the next month, waiting for the fusion of my vertebrae! I'm still not allowed to drive, but I can ride in a car. So it was nowhere near as bad as I had dreaded. I would recommend a grabber for when you're in the recliner with everything set up around you. It never failed that I forgot my slippers or a blanket, etc, after I was all situated. So I have one on order now. :)

    Oh, and I don't know if it was because it took me several days before I started eating soft foods and about a week before eating solid foods, but I did not have my first poo for 11 days! The pain meds cause constipation, so get a stool softener. I was never uncomfortable, so I never got it. I don't know if that was a big deal.

    Oh, and I have now lost about 9 pounds too from all of the lack of eating.

    And I also recommend getting lots of button up pajamas and tops.


    Standards agreement and posting rules.
    Naming specific institution or doctor names is not permitted in the Spine-Health.com forums.
    Edited by Authority Member Cath111 5/11/11.

  • Stock up on bendy straws. I take them with me everywhere! :)

    The doc told me that with multiple level fusions, there is higher risk of one or more not fusing, so it is safest to go with your own hip bone than risking a cadaver or synthetic.

    He also removed bone spurs while he was there. But removing the discs should prevent future bone spurs there.

    I also was able to get some videos of the highlights of the procedure. Ask your doctor. Some microscopes have video capabilities. It was really cool to watch later. But I'm glad I didn't see them before the surgery!
  • Stock up on bendy straws. I take them with me everywhere! :)

    The doc told me that with multiple level fusions, there is higher risk of one or more not fusing, so it is safest to go with your own hip bone than risking a cadaver or synthetic.

    He also removed bone spurs while he was there. But removing the discs should prevent future bone spurs there.

    I also was able to get some videos of the highlights of the procedure. Ask your doctor. Some microscopes have video capabilities. It was really cool to watch later. But I'm glad I didn't see them before the surgery!
  • Sorry to hear you're facing surgery, but I hope it helps and you fuse well.

    I had a recliner that was my "station", where I spent most of my time. I also had a rolling table right next to it to put my laptop on, my pills, drinks, and to use as an eating try. (I actually still have it all in place.) Reclining was my favorite position while recovering, but I did do a lot of walking. Hubby also bought me a big cushy blanket and a couple of pillows so I could "hole up" when I wasn't feeling well or had to take stronger meds during recovery. I still love that blanket today - you might call it my Wooby.

    I had help for the first three weeks (overkill - two would've been find, but it was my first surgery so we didn't know) and that was good to keep me from doing things I shouldn't like feeding the dogs, etc.

    A shower chair was also good - I could only take my collar off to shower and I was afraid to move my head. So hubby gave me my showers and washed my hair for the first few weeks.

    Get a grabber or two. Those are invaluable. You can get them at any drug store for about $10 and the ones I got had little rubber cups on the ends. It helps you to pick things up without bending over. I still use it today. I had one for upstairs and one for downstairs.

    Make sure you have comfy clothes, lounge pants and maybe button-down shirts if it difficult to get a t-shirt on. You'll be wearing those a lot. I also had a comfy robe to wear over these.

    Also, don't take a whole lot to the hospital. I took way too much - a book, a robe, slippers, extra change of undies, etc. - and I ended up wearing lounge pants to the hospital, wearing nothing but the wonderful hospital gown (not even underwear) while there, then the same clothes back home. There's no time to read and really no desire, especially if you're on a pain pump.

    I was only in the hospital for just over a day, surgery at 7:30 on Tues am and out at noon on Wednesday. I think that unless there are complications, they don't feel the need to keep you, as long as you can deal with oral meds vs. intravenous and the PT person releases you, having tested to make sure you can handle stairs, sitting and getting up on your own, etc.

    Anyway, hope I helped address some of your concerns. Feel free to PM me if I can answer any questions or help you in any way. I hope you find that, like most of us, the anticipation is worse than the surgery.

    Take care and please keep us posted.

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