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New member, here's my story but recovery is difficult to manage/understand

Hi all,

I'm a new member but I have to say I was following some of the threads pre surgery and these helped me to manage my expectations somewhat.

I had an ACDF AT C6/C7 with with a Titanium Cage, no plates or screws 2 weeks ago and gosh it feels like a slow recovery. I don't have a collar which feels unique reading all the posts here.

Just to give some background I'm a 42 year old male and I first injured myself 11 months ago whilst visiting family in New Zealand. I was lifting my then 14 month old son in his baby backpack onto my shoulders and then I turned to talk to him whilst I wad lifting. I basically twisted the disc out of position. It wasn't an immediate pain, more a sudden loss of energy, then a creeping heat and stiffness that seemed to crawl up my neck. Only the next day did the pain start to kick in and my right shoulder was agony. Even the strongest over the counter meds but it didn't touch the pain.

Then I had to endure 24 hours on a plane back to the UK where I must have spent at least half of that time standing, stretching, doing anything I could do relieve the pain. I won't moan about long haul travel ever again after that flight!

It took about a week for the nerve pain to start and that was horrible. The pain was bad, but probably a 5 or 6 so I could get by. I actually found the numbness in my right hand and fingers the most frustrating. I had to wear a wrist support really wrapped down to my fingers in order to protect my now numb fingers that were at the same time in pain.

I had a sort of 'maybe it's a slipped disc' diagnosis from my doctor and had Physio along with Amitriptiline for the nerve pain.

The symptoms resolved over about 5 months and I thought I was all recovered...

Then in the summer I was carrying my son (again!) on my shoulders quit a lot. One day after a family trip I had that familiar feeling in my neck again, but this time the symptoms came back so much more quickly and worse than before to the pint where one day I collapsed just putting on a T-Shirt (really mundane once again!)

At this point I needed oral morphine and Tramodol for the pain, which was at times a 9 in my hand, which felt like every bone had been broken in. It was the most pain I had ever experienced but it calmed a little after a couple of weeks.

At this point I met with a great Neuorosurgeon in London who arranged an MRI, Nerve Conduction Studies and X-Rays. Since the MRI, which I to,erased but only just, I have discovered you can have an Upright MRI, where you don't go down a tube, so it's perfect if you're claustrophobic!

Anyway, my tests showed I had a significant prolapse at C7 which was compressing the nerve root to my arm causing the pain. I sent a couple of weeks thinking about the pros and cons of surgery but decided to go for it as it was unlikely my arm would gave recovered with Physio alone. I opted for an ACDF with cage and that just over 2 weeks ago.

The surgery itself went really well I'm pleased to say. The cage was sited well and I had enormous relief immediately on waking. I felt like I was wearing a glove that was too small before as my flexion in my fingers was so affected. All flexion in my fingers and most of it in my wrist had returned. I had great pain relief and only needed oral morphine once a day to 'top up' my paracetamol and morphene. I had some swallowing problems for less than a week but not nearly as bad as I'd been worried about. Taking pills was hardest as I couldn't throw my head back as you would do normally when swallowing with wage. I think my head might have fallen off! I had 3 nights in hospital, the first of which was in the High Dependency Unit as this was a preference elf my surgeon. Then I travelled home and that

I had 8 clips (staples) removed 1 week after surgery and my scar is very good indeed. I'm not sure if the feeling in my first finger will return but it's early days I know. I find loss of sensation incredibly frustrating to say the least.

The area around the wound has healed well but it's all the inside stuff that's bothering me now.

So, recovery? Lots of daytime TV interspersed with short walks. The first few days I went for a couple of 200m walks to test myself out and they were OK. I then if course pushed it too early and have tried a few hills out as its hilly where I live. This really loads way more pressure on and I really feel it quickly between my shoulder blades, which start to burn. I'm finding heat helps so I use both a hot water bottle and a microwaveable oat filled bean bag that wraps round my neck.

I'm finding this stage really hard I have to say.

I've never done 'recovery' without feeling ill before. It makes me want to do too much and so I keep doing that. I'm emptying the dishwasher, in and out of cupboards etc. I've driven a couple of times and regretted it. Way too soon. It's funny, when ive become used to doing not a lot at home, suddenly I get surprised when I can't peer round a road junction or check a wing mirror.

So, pain now?

The pain is in both shoulder blades and right around the surgery site. At night time it's way worse and I can't get comfortable with one or two pillows. I can't just sit up. I have to lean to one side before sitting up sideways as it were. I've also experienced new pain swallowing recently - not in my throat - but more as it presses back on the operation site. It's helped if I change my posture though as leaning forward makes it worse.

I really don't know when to go back to work . They are being very good and if I went back after Christmas it would be fine. That would be 6 weeks. I'm 2 weeks in and I think it's boredom making me question why I'm off work. I'm a bit of a workaholic but my journey takes 1 1/2 hours by train and tube, which I think might just wipe me out now.

Tomorrow is my first review with my surgeon so hopefully all will be fine. I'm looking to understand exactly what's going on healing/fusion wise so I can settle back into recovering gently rather that being jumpy about being off work! I have to remember and I read it here 'THINK FUSION'!

If anyone has any insight about recovery times and healing at 2 weeks onwards post surgery I'd be really interested.

Thanks for reading this and good luck with your own recoveries or symptom relief.

ACDF C6/C7 with Titanium Cage


  • I had ACDF with the cage also but mine was at C5/C6. I dealt with pain in my neck to my shoulder blades and down the arms for about 3 yrs. I had my surgery in September and had to wear the collar for about 5 weeks. It was hard going at first but it got better and then I tried doing stuff that needed done also, laundry, cleaning, dishwasher load/unload, etc. I also had trouble swallowing for a while but it got better. One thing I had to do was take my vitamins and pills with milk instead of water. It helps because its thicker and it seems to help "grab" the pills better to go down. Otherwise I have to eat something thick like pudding to keep them down. My mom also had ACDF but her surgery was complicated and they had to do a laminectomy as well on the posterior side. Her surgery was in October. She had the same problem with swallowing pills until I suggested the milk instead of water and now they are going down much easier for her also.
    All I can suggest is make sure you are getting rest. Don't overdo it. It is so easy, I know. I also suggest that you ask your doctor about physical therapy afterwards. My injury/issue is different because I didn't actually do something to injure my neck but you will be glad once you do. I have some other issues besides this that keep coming up but I am at the 12 week mark and will be returning to work next week I think. Keep yourself healthy and give yourself a break when you do go back to work. It might be difficult at first and you don't want to overdo it this close after surgery or you may end up hurting worse. Good Luck
    Tracie C
  • No need to get all jumpy and anxious only two weeks after your surgery. Spine surgery traditionally requires a very long recovery period. The incision site heals relatively quickly, but the nerves underneath are notoriously slow to heal. Give yourself at least two years of healing before you begin to worry. I had ACDF surgery,and it was about 18 months before I could reduce my pain pills of Gabapentin. My best advice to you is have patience, because it really takes a long time to heal. I used bone stimulator around my neck to help me fuse, so ask you doctor about that.
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