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I need ACDF. Scared. Any post op experiences appreciated.

islandstylistiislandstylist Posts: 307
edited 06/11/2012 - 9:01 AM in Neck Pain: Cervical

In the middle of the night one night I woke in severe pain unable to get out of bed by myself. Over the last 3 months I have been to several drs. All who told me it was probably muscular. I insisted on an mri but it takes at least 6 mos for an mri appt here.

On my 3rd visit to the er I told the drs that I was getting neurological symptoms. Numbness,tingling etc. So they did a ct. I have a large cervical herniation.

Since the injury 3 mos ago my mother has had to come live with me as I am unable to lift my baby. This makes me the saddest of all because I cant do anything for my new baby and I know this is only the beginning. I lie on the couch all day because I can only hold my head up for short periods of time.

I have been told that I need acdf but I am really scared that even with the surgery I will never have my old life back. I have been getting more depressed about my new quality of life. Will I always have to watch what I do and be careful forever?

I am hoping someone can help put my mind at ease and maybe share their acdf experiences with me. Thank you all so much.
Missy, 1 level ACDF C6/C7 Monday July 16th 2012.



  • I haven't had cervical surgery, but I have had lumbar decompression and fusion which really helped with the awful sciatica in both legs that I was getting. If I had to decide again, I would definately still go ahead with surgery. It was a tough recovery, but well worth going through it to get the relief.

    Now unfortunately, I am still having spinal problems. I now have pain and symptoms from my neck and thoracic spine. I have problems there with compression on my cord in both areas. I have also just been told by my second opinion neurosurgeon that he recommends that I have a 2 level ACDF. I am older than you (50s) and I have a lot of degeneration throughout my spine, so I have been told that I will always have trouble my my spine. I know how worrying it is to feel that your life is changed for ever.

    To encourage you, there have been many people who have been here, had surgery, and recovered and gone back to work and their lives. You will read of some who have not been 'fixed' but they tend to be the complicated cases and of course they stay around for the support that Spine Health gives. Please do remember that almost all the good stories are no longer here and talking about it. They are back and busy with their lives.

    I don't know what the chance of your disc healing itself is, especially after 3 months. Have you asked your surgeon about that? The fact that there is compression on the cord makes me think that it is unlikely, but I am not a doctor.

    I know that this journey is very scarey. I found that reading and learning all I could about the condition and treatment, and reading about other's experiences helped me to come to terms with what I had to face. In fact, as I was prepared for the worst, I was pleasantly surprised when my fusion recovery wasn't as bad as I had feared.

    Do stay and get to know us better, and learn all you can about what you may be facing.

  • I had ACDF at C5/6 5 weeks ago. My problem is degenerative so not sure how much similarity we have. I had pain for 12 years prior to surgery. I did not have pain shooting down the arm. It was mostly in upper back, shoulders, and trap muscles. Since surgery, the shoulder and trap muscle pain is gone but I do have muscle spasms and extreme tightness across upper back. From everything I have read, this is common. It does seem to be getting better. I started working part time from home 4 weeks after surgery and went back to the office 6 hrs a day this week. I have a desk job and a 40 min commute on a good day. I may have gone back to work a little too early but was bored at home and figured I had worked in pain for years. I stayed in the hospital one night, did not to wear a collar, and was able to drive short distances at 3 weeks. I am still taking muscle relaxers and 1/2 Norco twice a day. I know two people who had the surgery at both 5/6 and 6/7 and both consider it a success and were glad they did it. I am 47 and was in good shape prior to surgery. I am walking daily which is recommended by surgeon to help with recovery. I know I am rambling but would be happy to answer any specific questions you have. Even though you can't hold your baby, you can lay with him and he will know how much you love him!
  • I'm 5 weeks out of 3 level acdf surgery myself and my results are similar to Nicky's post above. Back at work, light duty. Off the pain meds, I have no more arm or shoulder pain and all numbness and tingling is gone. I dealt with mine for many years but gave in to surgery. My left arm is half the size of my right but it feels great to feel normal again. I do have some pain but it is tolerable and not constant. I got the peek implant with the brace in front. I do have kind of a choking sensation but I'm early in my recovery yet. Having trouble sleeping. I would do surgery again at this point.It seems you are very early and I imagine the doctor will want to treat you with meds first before surgery. I saw four doctors before I was totally comfortable the procedure. I'm 54 years old and in good health otherwise. I/m still having trouble sleeping, just hard to get comfortable at this point. Feel free to PM if you have any questions.
  • Thanks so much Jellyhall!

    I am glad I found this site. You are very kind to respond. I am trying not to freak out. And yes I had hoped it might heal on its own too but my dr says hell no! Lol!
    Missy, 1 level ACDF C6/C7 Monday July 16th 2012.

  • Even though you can't hold your baby, you can lay with him and he will know how much you love him!

    I really needed to hear that. I cried when I read that,it was very sweet of you to say that. I guess I just feel like Im missing out on so much with my baby now and I know this is only the beginning.

    I am so glad that youre doing better after your ACDF and I look forward to chatting with you in the future.
    Missy, 1 level ACDF C6/C7 Monday July 16th 2012.

  • Thank you!

    I am glad to hear that you're improving after your acdf. You sound like you're really active and healthy too,so Im sure you'll keep getting better!
    Missy, 1 level ACDF C6/C7 Monday July 16th 2012.

  • islandstylist72,
    Like you, I awoke in the middle of the night with a severe pain in my neck. By the next morning, I had so much pain in my neck and right shoulder that I went to the ER. The ER doc told me that it was a pulled muscle and gave me painkillers. I knew better, because the pain was way out of proportion to a pulled muscle. After about 6 weeks of misdiagnoses, an MRI was taken of my cercival neck area showing a herniated disc in the same area as yours, c-6 c-7. The herniated disc was pressing on the spinalcord and the c-7 nerve root. I had lost virtually all function in my right triceps.

    9 days ago I had acdf using a cadaver bone graft and no instrumentation. Upon waking from the surgery, the pain in my right shoulder and arm was completely absent. I cannot tell you how wonderful that felt. Even though I am just 9 days post-op, I have every reason to believe that the pain is gone for good. Recovery from the surgery has been easy for me. I had a sore throat for about 5 days and a little bit of neck pain for the same period of time. I was also able to put away the pain killers at day 5 and have not needed them since.

    Since I opted for no instrumentation (no plate and screws), it will be necessary for me to wear a hard cervical collar for about 8 weeks. Although it is very uncomfortable and makes sleeping difficult, it is NOTHING compared to the prior neurological pain that we all know.

    ACDF surgery has been around since the 1950's and is the tried and true fix for the problem you and I share. I just wanted you to know that, in my experience, it has been a God-send.

    Good luck to you.
  • Thank you so much!

    I cant believe how similar our stories are! You really give me hope because right now I feel like my life is over.

    Why if I may ask did you opt for no screws or plates?

    I wish you continued healing and am so happy for you with your great recovery!
    Missy, 1 level ACDF C6/C7 Monday July 16th 2012.

  • I also wanted to ask how long you waited from the onset of your symptoms until you had the surgery?
    Missy, 1 level ACDF C6/C7 Monday July 16th 2012.

  • Yes, our stories are very similar but you are younger than I am. I am a 54 year old female but I never had any kind of back problems before the "explosion" in my neck one night. Literally, I just sat up in bed to throw a blanket off of me and it hit me out of the blue!

    That explosion happened the first of February (about 6 weeks ago) so I made it to surgery pretty quickly. When the neurosurgeon did a physical exam and determined the extent of my muscle loss, he told me that he needed to operate immediately to improve my chances of getting muscle strength back. Thankfully, this same doctor operated on my father several years before, so I knew and trusted him.

    The surgeon offered me the option of instumentation or no-instrumentation. He told me that he believed that either would work well. (note: I am not a smoker, which seems to improve the chances of the fusion being successful) Basically, the choice boiled down to not using the plate and screws but having the cervical collar on for about 2 months, or using the plate and screws and being collar free. Since I am lucky enough to work out of my house (most of my time is spent at a computer), I can wear the cervical collar and still work. For that reason, I decided against having the metal in my neck and opted for the cervical collar. I do have to say that the collar is really a pain, so I hope that I don't regret my decision a few weeks from now. But, as I said before, it is a small price to pay to get relief from that terrible pain in my shoulder and neck.

    I know that the surgery sounds scary. I was scared too. But looking at it from the other side, I am sooooo happy that I did it. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  • I am interested to know more about your surgery.

    Did you have a cage?
    What / if anything, was used as bone graft?
    Did you have a plate over the front of the vertebrae?
    Did you wear a collar?

    I agree with Nicky that you can lie with your baby and that physical closeness will be wonderful for you both. >:D<
    If your surgeon is suggesting ACDF, then he feels that it will help you. If there is no chance of your disc healing itself, then surgery could well be the way to get you back to functioning again, and being able to lift your baby.

  • Here is a link to my surgery blog. You can read all about my experience.

    ACDF C4-5 June 23rd, 2011

    Another surgery in the near future. I am 26 years old.

    Current Meds- Norco 7.5/325, Cymbalta 60mg, Gabapentin, Adderall 20mg
  • Hi, you asked a few questions. I had donor bone and a titanium plate and screws. I was given a collar but told only use it if I wanted to. I only wore it about three times, when a passenger in the car. I have to use a bone growth stimulator 30 min per day to assist with fusion. I do not smoke. This doctor gives the bone stim to everyone.

    I am close to 6 weeks now and the sensation of having something on my stuck in my throat is finally gone! Still have to remember to take vitamins one at a time instead of a mouthful, like I used to.

    Still having muscle tightness that is quite uncomfortable. I really hope it goes away as I have had that as one of my symptoms prior to surgery. I still take muscle relaxers although I really don't know if they are aven doing anything.

    Missy - hang in there. Just think, the quicker they fix you, the quicker you can pick that beautiful baby up!

    Bayou runner - you sound like you are doing really well. I slept in a recliner for the first few weeks. Are you in a bed? Maybe you need to take meds just at night to help with sleep. I feel really bad that I am still on meds, but don't feel I can function without. Even though some of my pre surgery pain is completely gone, that terrible muscle tightness/spasm is always there at this point :(
  • My husband told me to tell you that little baby boy will be a pain in your neck for the rest of your life. We have a 19 year old. Hee hee
  • The recliner is definately my friend! Just have trouble sleeping in the bed. I did break down the other night and take a muscle relaxer and an hour or two later I took a pain pill. Just would like to do without after taking pain medicine for over a year. I do still get spasms in my back but not everyday, but only at night. Took my grandaughter to a Sportsman show yesterday. She wore me out but we had good time! Slept for a few hours after I got home. Late in the afternoon I get wore down, I figure this will pass with time too!

  • It sounds like you are doing well in your recovery.

    My neurosurgeon told me that I would have muscle tightness in my neck and shoulders for quite a while after surgery, so I think that it is normal at this stage. He didn't say how long it would last. I expect everyone is different, but hopefully before long it will fade away.

  • I had 2 level ACDF, c5-7, in Nov of 2010. I have been completely pain free since. I've suffered no noticeable loss of flexibility. I am an avid runner, I lift weights at the gym, and can do everything I used to do.

    The surgery is serious, but nothing you can't handle. I don't remember being in great pain at any time post op; certainly not NEARLY as much pain as I was in 24-7 before. I was driving 2 weeks post op when I returned to work, went skiing, with my doctor's permission, 4 months post op. I suffered none of the throat irritation or voice problems I've read about. In retrospect, it really wasn't that bad and it cured me, which was necessary because I couldn't go on the way I was

    My best advice to you is to choose the right doctor. It makes all the difference. I had mine done at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. My doctor was EDITED, the head of orthopedics there. He's as good as they get. So do your homework, and if I ever have to do this again, I can deal with it, but NO ONE will perform this surgery on me except EDITED.

    Post edited to remove name of medical professional and or facility. by Authority Member Liz

  • Thanks Paul,

    To be honest I am totally terrified of this surgery so hearing how well youre doing is great for me. The first ns I saw really freaked me out telling me that this is called an incomplete spinal cord injury.

    Did your ns tell you how strong the fusion will be? I am worried that after the surgery if I break the fusion I could be paralyzed.

    I am also really angry at myself. Although I had no neck symptoms at the time,I fell off a kitchen chair a year and a half ago and wonder if that small fall could have contrubuted to me rupturing my cervical disc now?

    As you can see I am going through emotional hell right now, I feel hopeless and to be honest I wonder if I will be able to do anything I used to? (play softball,golf,pick up my kid) Sorry for the vent,its just where I am at right now.

    Anyways, I am happy for you and really glad you wrote to me. Makes me feel a bit better.
    Missy, 1 level ACDF C6/C7 Monday July 16th 2012.

  • I
    My doctor is an orthopedic surgeon, not a neurosurgeon. The fusion, when it takes properly, is actually as strong as the bone itself. As long as you fuse, it's not going anywhere unless you're in a car accident or something and then it wouldn't be any differ even if you never had the surgery. My doctor told me (when I asked him if I could ski) that the plate he put on there was plenty strong enough to hold me together while fusion occurred. He just told me not to do anything extreme, but that just falling down was no problem. I would assume you don't smoke; if you do, you need to stop, now. I don't, so that wasn't an issue. Otherwise, all I can tell you is that if I ever have to do this again, I wouldn't be NEARLY as nervous as I was the first time. Maybe I got lucky, but I kept a good attitude, and after about a month, I was pretty much going about my business as though it never happened. You'll be OK, just keep a positive attitude.
  • Thanks Paul,

    Great advice. You have a great attitude and youve been through a lot. I will try to work on MY attitude. Lol! Easier said than done but I know I have to do this because I have no quality of life at this point. Hugs.
    Missy, 1 level ACDF C6/C7 Monday July 16th 2012.

  • Make sure you ask your Surgeon if nerve damage is happening while you wait for your surgery. All that numbness tingling could be nerves being compressed. Have you had an EMG yet or discogram showing it's the herniation causing the numbness tingling in your arm? I would get a referral to a Neurologist.

    Also have you had any Physiotherapy yet as they can do treatment to take the pressure off the nerve and inferential treatments and ultrasound to ease the pain but you need the Ortho or Neurosurgeon to refer you for this.

    I have nerve impingement at C6-C7 and I get bad elbow pain and forearm and finger numbness and find relief from a PT doing gentle manual traction with me laying down and she hold my head and gently stretched the base of my head and gives me much relief in my arm. i also get inferential treatments and ultrasound to take down the inflammation and I take muscle relaxers and an anti-inflammatory.

    I hope you get a second opinion before surgery..I haven't had surgery yet but I don't have a large herniation. Check out post op must haves what you'll need to prepare for after surgery just do a search in the blue search box above for post op must haves.

    Keep us posted and hope you get more responses from others who have had c-spine surgery. Take care. Charry
    DDD of lumbar spine with sciatica to left hip,leg and foot. L4-L5 posterior disc bulge with prominent facets, L5-S1 prominent facets with a posterior osteocartilaginous bar. Mild bilateral foraminal narrowing c-spine c4-c7 RN
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