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5 Months Post ACDF - Neck Still Stiff and Sore?

starskysstarsky Posts: 3
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:57 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
New to the forums... not new to neck pain :(

QUESTION: How long does it *normally* take after a 1-level operation for your neck to feel relief?

(I thought I’d provide some background below - sorry to drone on!)

For 4 years I dealt with pain/numbness/tingling when finally the slight loss of coordination in my left lower leg caused me to go under the knife. I'm young - just turned 40 - and I am very active spinning/yoga/tennis/workout (tennis of course has been stopped since surgery) and nothing helped relieve the pain.

After seeing a couple neurosurgeons and a neurologist (after seeing my GP sports medicine doc many times) I was diagnosed with having cervical spondylosis with myelopathy. I had an anterior cervical fusion C5/6 in May 2011 so it's been just under 5 months.

My symptoms before surgery were:
  • slight tingling in arms
  • numbness in left index finger
  • muscle twitches in arms
  • Clonus
  • slight coordination issue in left leg
  • very sore neck/traps (felt like whiplash constantly)
Post surgery the tingling is gone and I can do a sit up or leg lift without my arm getting numb but other than that all my symptoms are the same.

That being said I did the surgery so it wouldn't get worse. I knew that my clonus and perhaps slight motor control issue might not get better - I can live with those - but I thought my neck pain would go away.

My neck is really really stiff and sore when I turn and move it. Some days are better than others but it's basically the same as it was before the operation.

I've tried PT but honestly it's just light neck work and yoga! I plan to make an appointment to see the surgeon in the next few weeks. I had a post-op xray at 6 weeks an "all looks good" according to the doc.

I've seen posts on this forum about people being in pain for years/permanently so I'll definitely follow up with the doc but I would hope that *normally* your neck does get relief.



  • I am exactly 8 months post-op and met with a physiatrist for the first time today. My NS released me around 3 weeks ago because I am fully fused at C5/6 and referred me to the physiatrist.

    Recovery can take up to a year according to the physiatrist. I still have pain in my upper back, shoulder and neck. Apparently this is normal. I was told that my pain is from myofascial trigger points and muscles that were overworked to compensate for weak rhomboid muscles from nerve compression. I'm doing my second round of PT with some relief.

    Do you use heat or ice on the muscles? Have you tried massage therapy? The best advice I would give you is to give it time, do your PT exercises and meet with a physiatrist. My physiatrist will be performing "osteopathic manipulative treatment" on me in my next appointment. It involves trigger point releases and gentle manipulation of the spine. I have a lot of musculoskeletal problems, so hope this will help.

    Good luck and keep us posted on your recovery! :)
    2011 ACDF C5-6 for Spondylosis with Myleopathy
    2012 L4-5 herniated disc and hernated disc at C4/5 2013 Taking Amitriptyline for headaches
  • Thank you for your reply!

    Your points about recovery taking a year and discomfort due to "muscles that were overworked to compensate for weak rhomboid muscles from nerve compression" is REALLY uplifting.

    I have to think there is a lot of truth there. My neck/traps/back has been in constant contraction for 4 years previous trying to hold weight off the nerves (from how I imagine it) so I can believe they would take some time to recover.

    Heat feels the best but I don't use it all the time. I have these great cold packs that are malleable (clay?) and can wrap around my neck. I use even less frequently. I should try to use them more.

    I try to get a massage once a month but I've never really hit it hard and gone for multiple sessions in a shorter period for a more extended time. I should try that.

    I will say that after a yoga class my neck feels the best. It doesn't last long though!

    I like my NS but he is very stoic and hard to read. I also realize - especially after being a lurker on these forums for a while - that there are people out there in much worse shape than I'm in. I often feel guilty complaining to my NS or even PT folks.

    I'd like to hear about your "osteopathic manipulative treatment" so by all means post again or message me.

    Thanks for your input and I'll post on progress!

  • Everyone heals different and everyone's case is different, so...give yourself the adequate time. Honestly, yoga is great, but be careful not to strain any of the muscles. Especially the more advanced positions can strain the upper back and neck muscles. Heat and stretch has also been extremely beneficial for me to alleviate pain and spasm.

    The osteopathic manipulative treatments will not commence until Nov. 10. I will let you know how it goes. In the meantime, let your body heal! Keep me posted!
    2011 ACDF C5-6 for Spondylosis with Myleopathy
    2012 L4-5 herniated disc and hernated disc at C4/5 2013 Taking Amitriptyline for headaches
  • I lucked out with my C5/6, but did have spasms and 'stiffness' up to 6 months constant, and then intermittent for about a year total. As was told to me, it takes a year or more for full fusion, and too for your body to fully adapt and accept. Remember your body is going to have issue with such a change.

    Even 1 level forever changes your spine. I hope you are feeling better soon. Welcome to Spine Health!!!

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • Thanks Brenda. Some days are better than others. I think the problem is that I had the (naive) idea that after the surgery things would get back to normal pretty quickly once the pressure was off my spine. In actuality it's no better (ache-wise) that it was before.

    I'll keep the forum posted.

    Thank you!

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