I came to this site to get insight into my neck problems, treatments, surgery, and recovery. I have learned a great deal from these forums. After reading some pretty scary surgery stories, I thought I might relate my experience with ACDF.
I am from Texas and have dealt with back problems for over 30 years and neck problems for about 9 years. Injections have always taken care of my problems. I have never been on any kind of drug regimen other than Advil. I am a nurse, so my job is pretty physical and has probably contributed to my problems.
In July, after a year and a half of pain which I had basically ignored, both my right arm and right leg went numb and weak. No pain in the extremities, only neck and stabbing upper back pain. After numerous MRI's, six injections into my neck and lumbar region, and an EMG, I had a surgical consult with my Orthopedic surgeon. Because none of the injections worked, he had doubts that surgery would provide relief for me. He could not explain my leg symptoms since my lumbar region, while showing one bulging and one slightly herniated disc, wasn't too bad on recent MRI's. When I saw the MRI, it appeared that my spinal cord was compressed at C6-7, as was the nerve root on the right side, by a huge herniated disc. He told me he saw no spinal cord compression but acknowledged the large herniation. I kind of got the impression that he didn't quite buy the leg symptoms. He was always nice, polite, never patronizing, is nationally renown, yet I felt it would be prudent to get another viewpoint.
I got a second opinion by a neurosurgeon who promptly ordered a myelogram, which confirmed his suspicion that the large herniated disc was actually a huge bone spur that was crowding the nerve root and compressing the spinal cord at C6-7.
I had a one level ACDF on 10/28. The bone spur was so huge that the NS was able to use it and remnants of several other spurs to replace the disc, rather than going into the hip. He said the area was so tight, he didn't know how I had been coping as well as I had all this time. He confirmed that the spinal cord compression was slightly worse than it had appeared on the myelogram.
My main complaints immediately post op were severe esophageal spasms upon swallowing and neck pain. The spasms went away in a couple of days, and neck pain has gradually improved over time. I was given a very hard neck brace which I HATED, as I felt it didn't fit well and seemed to aggravate my discomfort. Sleeping in it was very difficult. Once I got home, I encountered severe Norco induced constipation, so I added Miralax to my stool softener regimen and got quick relief.
Narcotic treatment: I took two Norco 5mg every 4 hours for approx 4 days, then went to every 6-8 hours, then every 12 in a matter of a couple of days. At my 11 day check up, I told the doctor that I was only taking my Norco upon waking during the middle of the night with 7-8/10 pain that I attributed to the neck brace. He told me to quit using it if I wanted to, unless I was a passenger in a car. I was thrilled.
I just went 48 hours with no narcotics (though still taking Robaxin) and still wear the brace for short periods. I did 15 minutes on my recumbent bicycle today (wore the brace)and feel like I'm becoming a normal person. The bike felt good-with recumbent, the only things working were my lungs and my legs. The neck brace kept me stable.
My leg symptoms were gone immediately after surgery. My arm numbness and strength is vastly improved, though I feel it slightly on an occasional basis. My swallowing feels a little weird, but not really painful. I never had severe hoarseness, but couldn't call my dogs with the same high pitch I normally used. That has resolved.
So, 13 days post op, I am almost weaned off narcotics, I am eating, drinking, and eliminating normally, and have begun a conservative exercise program, which I will be very careful with. I'm doing light housework, laundry, cooking, and feeding the pets. I'm very optimistic about my recovery and very glad I went with the neurosurgeon, who in addition to being a great surgeon, has a wonderful, kind, compassionate bedside manner.
Just wanted to give you my experience so that those of you who may be considering this surgery know that it can go smoothly. Hopefully I continue on this positive track and will be done with neck problems for good.
Take care, guys.