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Advise for ACDF surgery pre and post op.

I am/was an active 35 year old female. I am heading in for ACDF next Thrusday. I am looking for any all insight for pre- and post op care and expectations. I am eager to get back to being the active me, marathoner, skier, dancer, tennis player etc. We wouldn't be here if we weren't all active. I know this is going to be a trial of pain and patience. I have not been able to be active as I have symptoms of myelopathy. I plan to listen to my body and be patient.
Specifically, I wanted to know what exercise I can do post op when I am feeling up to it? I do not start pt for six weeks post op. This I assume is to strengthen my neck muscles. Before that time has anybody been able to start a low impact regimen? If so what was it?
Stationary bike with back support?
Upright Stationary bike?
Isometric strengthening that does not strain surgery sight?

Thank you all!


  • Hi there, Bosco:

    Most importantly, have you spoken with your surgeon about exercise after surgery - and how soon after exercise?
    Are you having a single level fusion or multiple? What levels?
    Are you going to be wearing a collar after surgery for any time?
    Will you be wearing a bone growth stimulator?

    Those are important things to know because that will help determine what one can and cannot do after surgery.
    I had a 2 level fusion and wore a hard collar for 3 months. I specifically chose to have my surgery during the winter (albeit a California winter), so that I wouldn't feel like I was missing anything outside if I didn't feel up to it.

    Right after surgery and for the first month, especially because I was in that hard Miami J Collar, I was not to do anything but walk. Tripping and falling and jerking my neck was the biggest concern, so my surgeon mostly wanted me to take short and slow walks - nothing intense. My even suggesting to use the treadmill was met with extreme caution because those first few months especially are when everything is really trying to fuse. And, no upper body work other than stretching.

    One move I found very helpful was to stand in the doorway and put each arm flat against the frame of the doorway, looking like an "L" and a backwards "L" (For the right arm) and then taking one step slightly forward, opening up the chest and stretching that area. That was just something intuitive to me to do because I was just doing way too much sitting and as it turns out, it was a good thing to do as I am learning from the physical therapist I am seeing now to get a little bit more range of motion back.

    So much depends on the type and levels and hardware that you might have to wear. More info would be helpful.

    If you haven't asked your surgeon, I think that's really important to do before you have the surgery.

    My surgeon wanted my neck still for the first three months to help with the fusion. And, instead of taking up to a year for my neck to fuse, it took just three months with the aid of a bone growth stimulator, so I was able to get out and do a lot more at that point, although I did more sooner than three months.

    I did do a lot of self- massage of my neck and shoulders just to keep it from getting too stiff in the collar.
    But, as you will see from the various responses you receive, there will be the whole gamut of responses because they are different surgeries and different people.

    The most important thing I have found is to really allow your body to heal. I keep hearing of so many who are anxious to get back into their old life and they don't really allow enough time for their body to heal from the surgery. Surrender to the healing. You get one chance to get this right, so take advantage of it.

    It can be crazy-making - I get it - especially if you are having surgery now when the weather is so beautiful or getting more beautiful, depending where you are.

    Good luck to you. Let us know what you find out and how it goes.

    10/26/2012 ACDF C3/4 C4/5 surgery
    No pain; no pain meds - thank goodness!
    04/01/2013 - 5 months + 1 week - FUSED
    Doing some physical therapy for even better range of motion
  • Francine,

    Thank you for your insight. I am having C5-7 fused. I am meeting with my surgeon again this Thursday and will hopefully have a better understanding. I hear you loud and clear, listen to my body. It is unfortunate to be having the surgery at this time but I was told I should get in as soon as possible as the pressure on my spinal is NOT GOOD.
    Again, I am very grateful to have found this sight and look forward to continuing this dialogue and resourcing others. I will be sure to keep you all posted.
  • Hi, I had the same level ACDF about 4 years ago. At the time there was a tip sheet on the site about things for surgery... and if its still here.. its worth having a look at. I invested in a comfy recliner. Alot of people recommended it, and I know it was the best investment I made! Total support and easier to get up and down from.... I still LOVE my recliner! Straws are also handy :-) As for the rest of recovery.. I was back at work (desk job) 3 weeks after. I was ready to be back, but i tired easily from supporting my neck all day... but it was very doable. I found i needed tricks for working at my desk... no more holding the phone in the crook of my neck... needed a paper holder so i could easily see what I was typing (saved the up/down side to side motions at the computer) and I found i read things holding the papers up in front of my face instead of looking down at the paper on my desk... but as my neck strengthened... I can do these things now... I had very little pain once i recovered from my surgery... very successful all in all... but my neck can still act up from time to time... but nothing like it was pre-op. My singing voice changed... i used to be pretty good... now I can't hit some of the higher notes I used to... but no one is complaining when I sing in the car to the radio lol! Expect the first few days/weeks to have challenges... and most of them will probably fade slowly as you heal... so you just need to be a patient patient : -) like my voice for example... that was the slowest to come back... probably around 4 months post op I felt i could sing and not embarass myself LOL! Good luck with your op!! Also, just remember... that in these forums there are alot of really helpful people who have been on similar journeys; but often we're back on the site because we're having problems.... so forums aren't necessarily where people who have had successful operations "hang out".... be optimistic and take your time recovering... be patient :-)
    L4-L5 fusion 1998; ACDF C4-6 2008; DDD
  • jvillegma2bejjvillegma2be Posts: 2
    edited 04/23/2013 - 9:20 AM
    I am a newbie, on May 10th acdf three levels. NS ordered MRI in Oct. Had to go thru hoops, PT, injections and ended up back in his office two weeks ago. Just looking for recovery hints...PA told me yesterday I need two friends, patience and rest. That doesn't describe me at all...I want to be able to drive 4 hours and hold my first grandbaby in August. New to forums and boards
  • ....is to "surrender" to patience and rest. Figure that you have one shot to get this right and if you really want to drive for 4 hours, don't ignore this. You will have gone through a big surgery. Let your body heal.

    I keep hearing how people on here push it and then have setbacks. The choice is yours, of course. But, know from those of us who have had cervical fusion - if you want things to fuse properly, allow your body to heal.

    I would also make sure that you read some of the other posts on here about preparing for surgery - and be prepared. Even if you have friends - be prepared.

    Especially be prepared that you will likely need soft foods that slide down easily. Smoothies, puddings, yogurt, fruit popsicles, ice cream, cream of what - things that slide down easily because swallowing will likely be a challenge for a while.

    Oh yes, and stuff for constipation - Senokot and Ducolax - or whatever works for you - because pain meds will likely constipate you.

    Good luck to you.
    10/26/2012 ACDF C3/4 C4/5 surgery
    No pain; no pain meds - thank goodness!
    04/01/2013 - 5 months + 1 week - FUSED
    Doing some physical therapy for even better range of motion
  • How did your surgery go? I am almost 3 weeks post op acdf with 3 fusions and doing great!
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