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Recovery from ACDF SURGERY

Hi All,
I've had ACDF surgery, C4-C7, 3 weeks ago, on March 5th.
I was first diagnosed with Cervical Spondylosis and a pinched nerve at the C4-C5 level, in 2007. Till now, physiotherapy has been my best friend. Back in Dec 2014 I was hospitalized for about 12 days for the horrible nerve pain and muscle spasms that comes with bulging discs. MRIs revealed I now had 3 bulging discs, the worst being C5-C6. Was on morphine twice daily, Dexamethasone 3 times daily, neurontin 300mg 3 times daily at hospital. Continued with the neurontin 300mg after hospital, right up until surgery.
Thankfully, that pain is gone! Recovery hasn't been as bad as I thought it would be, but the sleeping isn't pleasant. After I left the hospital in Dec, my family got me one of those 'hospital' beds, where the head and foot can adjust. I was sleeping upright for about 2 months. Physiotherapy and traction helped me during this time, to get back to a somewhat normal sleeping position, just about 3 days before surgery. Now I'm back to sleeping upright, and can't find a comfortable enough position to sleep through the night.
I've gradually gone from about a 75 to 30 degrees inclined position. Still have alot of muscle pain and tightness. I've tried not to take any drugs to help me sleep tho, as I really want to be off any meds. Hopefully it will improve, as I heal. I tried a nap yesterday on my own regular bed, but was most uncomfortable and painful.

Would really like to hear from anyone else who's had ACDF and how your recovery has been.



  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 9,856
    surgeries for C4/C5/C6/C7 (two different times 1996,2000 and a redo of a fusion bone in 2001)

    I was sent home wearing a hard Philadelphia collar which I wore 24x7 for 6 weeks. That definitely helped with my neck stability, but it did not help with building up surrounding muscles. Many doctors today, do not use the hard collar, some soft only and some none at all.

    After 3 weeks, I was starting up physical therapy. I would say at the 9 week mark, I was pretty good. All the problems I had prior to these surgeries have been resolved.

    The only long term impact I have is in my range of motion, both left to right and up and down. I need to use an oversize rear view mirror while driving so that I can seen more

    But overall, with the different spinal and joint surgeries, I have to say the cervical ones were the easiest and quickest to recovery.
    Ron DiLauro Spine-Health System Administrator
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences
    You can email me at: rdilauro@veritashealth.com
  • My doctor doesn't like braces, so thankfully none for me. I wore a soft collar for about 6 weeks in 2007, and I hated it.

    I'm so glad to hear that your cervical surgeries were the "easiest ". I was so worried about recovery. And omg, I am so lucky, after going thru the forum and reading about what others are dealing with...wow.

    Thankfully my nerve pain is gone. My activities are still restricted and light. I am anxious to start physiotherapy tho, so I can start getting back to some kind of normal. According to my doctor and therapist I do have a slightly higher range of motion and flexion than most people, so I'm hoping that it will benefit me.

    Have you had any other problems with after you redid your fusion? One of the things that scares me is that the fusion doesn't happen. I can't tell you how many times I've watched the acdf video on this site, before surgery. Its 3 disc fusions in a row, so somehow I just feel a lot more fragile now.
  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 9,856
    From my experience I have found that when one part of your spine is fused, it will place more pressure on the other sections of your spine.

    My four lumbar surgeries were all done before 1986, and being a white collar working, the belief was that fusion surgery would not be needed. (today, that thinking has been totally reversed. White collar - need fusion, Blue collar may not). I developed a lot of scare tissue in my lower lumbar, so in effect it behaved as it was fused.

    In the early 1990s I started with cervical issues. So, by 2000, I had all my ACDFs complete. Now I was fused in the cervical area, and basically fused in the lumbar. That started to place stress on my thoracic area.

    In the first couple of years after 2000, I started having thoracic problems. One by one they started to give way. Now, I have 4 herniated thoracic discs. 2 are mild, 2 are moderate. But at this point, I have no intentions at lucky at surgery. Many other ways to handle that situation

    So, now, the morale of the story! Once you have a specific section of the spine fused, you need not only adhere to all the rules, limitations, restrictions for that given area, but keep in mind the other parts of your spine. You don't want to place unnecessary stress when possible.
    Ron DiLauro Spine-Health System Administrator
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences
    You can email me at: rdilauro@veritashealth.com
  • Hi,
    Been a while. I've started physiotherapy, which has been going good, but slow. I'm now almost 3 months post op. Been having a lot of trouble sleeping. Only able to sleep 1 hour at a time. If I take sleep aids, like Zquil, I get 3 hours. I wake up feeling like I've been hit by a bus. My back feels sore and tight. Sometimes my neck feels weird and as if it's out of alignment. And I've been feeling that awful lumpy throat ever so often...

    Have you had any of these issues after your surgery?
    I've been feeling so frustrated lately.

  • I share your pain. I have been having horrible insomnia almost daily. I still experience the lump in my throat. My energy level hasn't quite returned yet, and my pain comes and goes. I expected to be completely pain-free by now but I find I still need to take pain medication 3 to 4 times a week. I don't have to wear a brace so I find that on days that I do too much I definitely have more pain, and my old nerve pain is flared up. I find that recovery has been a total roller coaster for me. There is no pattern of "every day gets a little better", like other surgeries I have had. With this one every day is different from the next. Some days I have a lot of pain other days I have none but there is no rhyme or reason, other than I did too much the day before. I sleep very poorly, I still feel like I have a big piece of steak stuck in my throat and I tire very easily.
    So as you can see, you are not alone. I hope you continue to feel better.
  • Hi, Blessed Mom74,
    Hope you're doing a lot better now.
    I have not been on here a while. Been in physiotherapy, with a lot of success. I was doing really great for a few months. Then it was discovered I have a pulmonary embolism, due to some meds I was taking.
    My sleeping had improved a great deal, and so did my lumpy throat! I would feel it now and again, but not so much as before.

    I've always had back pain, and not bad, but it would always be because of my endometriosis. (Yes I have that as well, it's a very painful and debilitating disease). But now my back pain seems to be getting worse. After acdf surgery in March last year, I had the most awful pain on my spine, just between my shoulder blades. That's never stopped, but it eased to the point where I would mostly feel it if I bent my neck forward. Now, it's just there. Whether I bend my neck or not. I have pain down my entire spine, some days. Mornings are the worst. It feels like my back is broken and just so much pain, to get out of bed. My lower back is the worst, straight across my waist.
    Is this because of my surgery? Is the rest of my spine now being affected??

    Someone, anyone...
  • The user and all related content has been deleted.
  • [Deleted User][[Deleted User] Posts: 65
    edited 02/01/2016 - 6:26 AM
    The user and all related content has been deleted.
  • Hi,

    Can you please address my recent post on back pain?
    Would like to hear your views.

  • Sue 1965SSue 1965 United KingdomPosts: 115
    Hi-I had C5/6 acdf on 211215-and I too have the horrible shoulder/shoulder blade pain too..I didn't have it as bad before my op..I'm hoping that it will eventually heal itself.I have always had lower back pain anyway-and with this new pain-it hurts a lot!
  • Hi,

    I told my doc about that pain, right after surgery. He said it was from the stress and trauma of doing such a surgery, and cannot say if it will go away or not. I'm about 11 months post Op now, and it hasn't, but it has gotten a little better. If i bend my neck forward, I feel it. Over the past few days it's flared up tho. I have a lot of trigger point pain, from before surgery, that's still there. I haven't found anything that helps, except deep tissue massage now and then.
    I've been looking into dry needling. But I'm on xarelto, a blood thinner, so I have to find out if it's ok to try it.
  • sharidasharida Posts: 21
    edited 02/04/2016 - 3:52 PM
    Sue, will you be doing PT?
  • Sue 1965SSue 1965 United KingdomPosts: 115
    No-my doc hasn't recommended anything! I am now 6 weeks post op-and thought I was ok to go back to work..Big mistake-I'm back where I started pain wise now..
  • Omg, no! 6 weeks!

    I'm a graphic designer and I wasn't cleared for work till about 4 months later. And even then I had restrictions.
    Take your time and go at an easy pace. The last thing you want is pain flaring up.

    Physiotherapy was key in my quick recovery. I think that's something you should ask about.
  • Sue 1965SSue 1965 United KingdomPosts: 115
    I think the recovery time is supposed to be less for only one level which is what I had! I have seen my surgeon once since the op-4 weeks afterwards-and he now doesn't want to see me for  10 months at which stage he says he will possibly do an xray for curiosity sake as its not so important that I fuse?! I am in the UK and I don't think physio is something they offer after this operation. I did feel ok-ish-after the  weeks-but of course I had been doing nothing at all..Didn't really overdo it at work either-but the simple repetitive movements were agony.Driving is also hard-yes I can look over my shoulder-but then to whip my head back round to look in front-is intensely painful. I guess that as my surgeon cleared me for work-if my pain was controlled at the 4 week mark-I felt that whether I was ready or not-I should go back..Will listen to my GP now who did think I was trying too early! I just hope I haven't delayed the healing process.Thanks Sharida.
  • Hi,
    I had acdf on c4-c7, but I healed and fused pretty quickly, actually a lot quicker than I thought. My doc was just being very cautious. They didn't offer PT here, I did it privately. But my doc works with the PTs at the clinic I go to. I'm in Trinidad, in the Caribbean.

    As for my range of motion, my doc was amazed that it almost unaffected. The PT wasn't tho, as she had always said I had more flexion than the average person.

    Please give your self time to heal, don't rush. I'm only speaking from my own experience, so listen to your body, and you'll get there :)

  • Sue 1965SSue 1965 United KingdomPosts: 115
    Aww thanks Sharida- isn't this forum amazing when we can share stories that are so similar no matter where we are in the world??!! Caribbean-wow-impressed and jealous!! I will give myself the time-can't afford not to really! Take care and thanks.Sue
  • Bruce EitmanBruce Eitman Akron, OH, USAPosts: 1,154
    I had the shoulder blade pain before surgery, and it got worse after.  I asked for and received a prescription for muscle relaxer which helped a lot and after a week I no longer took it.  For a couple of weeks it was totally gone, but is now back a slight bit - I can live with it now.

    Spine-health Moderator

    Read my story at Bruce - My Story
    ACDF C4-C5-C6-C7, and getting better every day
    It has been a process of healing, learning, exercising, and resting - and figuring out when to do which.

  • Sue 1965SSue 1965 United KingdomPosts: 115
    Thanks Bruce-hopefully my pain will eventually settle down..
  • Sue, yes I must say I am really thankful I found this forum the connections I've made are wonderful. My bro and dad went looking for info on ACDF surgery and to better understand what was happening to me and they found it here! The info and the vids on this site is amazing. 

    As for that shoulder blade pain...mine eased, but now it's back, constantly.
    I think I may need to visit my doc just for a check up. The pain (which feels as tho it's) down my spine, just in the region between my shoulder blades is also worse now, after getting better for a while.

    I have found that a balance between, ice/heat and exercise had helped a bit tho.
    Bruce it's funny, that we must sometimes learn to live with pain.
  • Sue 1965SSue 1965 United KingdomPosts: 115
    Thanks Sharida-as for living with the pain-yes I think that's what I'm starting to resign myself to..There are loads of people far worse off than me but id does get you down sometimes.. Take care.Sue
  • Hi all. I joined this forum to inquire about acdf surgery and the pain was so bad I went ahead with surgery before I got any responses. (I took a gamble). I had a herniated disc between c6-7 with severe stenosis and the right side of my body was so painful that I could not hold a straight thought. My fingers and forearm were numb and I could not live my "normal" life. I tried all the conservative treatments with no relief. I am now 2 weeks post op. As soon as I woke up in the recovery room, the pain and numbness was completely gone. I was on so many pain meds pre op that I felt like a zombie. 2 days after acdf surgery I was able to completely get off all pain meds. Yes I have to wear an aspen collar for 8 weeks and that makes it difficult to sleep but compared to the pain I was in I will take the trade off any day. It does feel like there is a lump in my throat and makes it difficult to swallow but I'm told that will pass with time. All in all, I am so glad I got the surgery and if I had to do it over again the only thing I would change is that I would've gotten it sooner. Of course, individual results vary, but I wanted to keep you all posted so if you're considering surgery there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 
  • Faith981Faith981 Posts: 78
    edited 02/12/2016 - 8:05 PM
    Hello Sharida,
    I too had the same surgery. I too have shoulder blade pain. I didn't have it at all until 2 months before the surgery, I had a mild whiplash in the car. (I was getting out and the driver accidentally pressed the gas hard, then the break. Since I was getting out of the car I had taken off my seat belt, I whipped forward and back all the way down from my waist.) I always thought the pain was from that, but it may be also from the surgery. It got worse soon after the surgery with extreme tingling and twitching in my thoracic spine. The tingling was driving me mad, I tried a thoracic spine support wrap I bought off of Amazon. It suppressed the tingling, numbness symptoms and mildly helped with the pain. I wore it all the time till the tingling stopped (about 3 months) then I finally got approved for my MRI. It only showed degeneration. I now have only pain there that at times takes my breath away. I still have trouble sleeping 9 months later. My surgeon told me a full year to heal so every little bit of progress is a good thing! :)

    I must say I love your x-ray. I wish I still at least had my cervical curve the way you do! I was starting to reverse my curve when I had surgery. Now it is straight at the bottom and still pulls forward ever so slightly where it is not fused at the top. I'm trying to do PT to stretch my head back into the best position to prevent more pressure on the last remaining cervical discs. I always thought that was part of my pain, but you have a beautiful curve and still feel pain too. I'm sorry anyone has to suffer like us. Try to keep on the positive side. I wish you the best of healing!
  • Sue 1965SSue 1965 United KingdomPosts: 115
    Hi Travis and Faith-Travis-glad to hear you had such a positive outcome-and felt the relief so quickly-the lump thing for me anyway-comes and goes-doesn't hurt like it did in the beginning but I just feel there's something there-maybe scar tissue-not sure. I am 8 weeks post op this coming monday and most of my pain has gone-although my arm does hurt when I use it-but the pain at the back of my neck and across my shoulders-that hurts when I move my head in a certain way is new since the op so i hope this will eventually settle..
  • Hi All,

    I have absolutely no regrets about my surgery. I spent 2 weeks in the hospital with the worst pain of my life ( and I have endometriosis which is very painful by itself).

    Faith, that curve I now have, is all my surgeon's doing. I can't stop saying how amazing he was. It was reversed before surgery!! And a few months before that it was straight. But my spine is kind of straight, genetics I guess, so I may be prone to problems with my spine. I am still amazed and shocked that they replaced parts and I've got titanium inside me, holding up my neck, lol

    Travis, wow, always glad to hear of positive results and recovery! I too was zonked out on morphine, steroids, muscle relaxers, neurontin and tranquilizers, so yeah, it feels really good to be off that kind of meds.

    Sue, I'm getting used to the pain, but I refuse to resign to just live with it...I'm still searching for relief :)
  • Sue 1965SSue 1965 United KingdomPosts: 115
    Hi Sharida- great to hear from someone who has had some relief. Yes-I think I have to get used to the pain I still have-but like you say-get on with my life-don't let it define and debilitate me.. :)
  • joowee40joowee40 Mississippi Posts: 99
    Sharida...with your endo, does your lower back hurt with it and like maybe cause si joint pain and sciatic pain down your leg? After a hysterectomy a couple of yrs ago for one problem, they found out I had stage 4 endo and was wrapped up with it and got as much out as they could and I never knew I had it. 
  • Hi,

    Yes, all of that...i feel the pain up to my knee tho, not down my entire leg. Wow! You've never had any indications?
    It's such a painful thing to deal with. Right now my entire back/spine is in pain, and now I've been getting this odd headache. I think it's all connected - the endo is acting up and cause every other spine issue to flare up.

    UGH... :/ :s

  • joowee40joowee40 Mississippi Posts: 99
    Nope none at all but what they went in for was adenomyosis which is knots in uterus causing migraines and heavy flow and cramping and after getting in there, found the endo also. Dr said I should have been screaming in agony 24/7 there was so much of it. I hope it isn't coming back. 
  • sharidasharida Posts: 21
    edited 03/08/2016 - 10:48 PM
    You're really lucky! I'm in some kinda pain 24/7 - pelvic or back/neck...but I'm fighting thru it. I try to work out as much as I can.
    Saw my neurosurgeon last week and everything seems to be good with my spine. The back/neck pain flare ups are all a result of my endo flare ups. My aunt had adenomyosis, she used to have the worst periods, but a hysterectomyhelped.
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