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4 1/2 weeks post ACDF C5-6

D. IndigoDD. Indigo Posts: 10
edited 01/13/2016 - 3:20 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I have spent many hours searching and reading on this excellent site and finally decided it was time to share my own experience in the hope it is somehow helpful to others. Any input would be appreciated and questions, more than welcome.

First of all, I am a 51 year old fitness-oriented female and good physical condition. On December 14, I had ACDF on C5-6 with with titanium plate and cadaver bone after 2+ years of worsening neck pain and left arm weakness / lack of hand coordination. The procedure went well (about 30 mins) and I had the normal swallowing discomfort and posterior neck pain, but I was eating regular food almost immediately and discharged the next morning. I have not taken any pain medications at all after my first night home from the hospital. This has to do with a relatively high pain threshold and the constipation and insomnia that narcotics give me.

The post-op instructions were inadequate, with very minimal restrictions and no cervical collar because of the stability provided by the plate. I was told I could drive as soon as I was off the narcotics. This all gave me a false sense of security and by day 2 or 3, I was doing dishes, wrapping gifts and trying to do as much as possible. Not a great decision to push this much and neck pain and arm weakness came on with a vengeance. Unfortunately I have one of those spines that does not always let me know I am overdoing it until 2 days later.

On Day 9, I was riding with my husband to a local restaurant and a car pulled out in front of us. Thankfully we avoided a collision, but of course the slamming of the brakes caused my neck to jerk. I was extremely anxious about it being so early in the fusion process. Pain and weakness progressed over the next several days, so I called the neurosurgeon's office. I had to jump through a lot of hoops over about 5 days,, but got an X-ray that showed the fusion was in good alignment. A week later, NS ordered an MRI because of the sudden brake-slamming, which I had 4 days ago and the feedback I have gotten thus far is that the site looks normal.

I have been walking a couple times a day for 20 mins. I tried to use my recumbent bike several days ago for 10 mins and that brought on additional neck pain, so laying off that for a while longer. I am scheduled for the regular post-op follow up late January.

I am trying to stay positive, but can't say that I feel much better than before the surgery in relation to the level of neck pain and arm weakens. I am hoping that is due to healing and inflammation. I suspect that other levels are contributing, since I have spondylosis like a lot of folks my age. One definite positive is that I am no longer lightheaded. I'll take it!

Thanks for reading this!


  • Nick.nyNNick.ny New York,NYPosts: 121
    edited 01/13/2016 - 4:37 AM
    and welcome to our world, the spiney's world. I don't know if I'm the right person to comment but I'll try. First I'm glad your surgery was successful and the number one rule is listen to your doctor and no one else. we everyone here just tell our stories and of course not two of them are alike....! BUT since I've been there two times the first one ACDF C 4/5/6/7 four and a half years ago and the second one just last Wednesday just a week ago for anterior revision of C 4/5/6/7 plus the level above that C 3-4 so now I have Fused C 3/4/5/6/7. A neck full of metal. I think you over doing it. Way too much to early.I'm very sorry if I sound rough but I know very well what it feels like. Besides I lay my neck to be cut again the pain and the suffering for four years wasn't worth.listen to your doctor,ask your doctor but again I think you taking a risk and isn't worth.it is a major surgery and takes enough time to recover 100%. Driving a car, yes you can be carefull but it's always some ones else's fault, riding a bike? Doing dishes the 2nd day? No no. Again talk to your doctor but listen to your body. Give it a chance to heal, to recover,it's your life you don't want anything to happen like my self and many many others. Sorry again if I was rough but just don't want to see any other person to happen what happened to me.Wish you best of luck and take it easy!
    2011 ACDF C 4/5/6/7.
    2011 repaired sternum with fixation plate and 9 screws.
    4/2011,3/2012,11/2012 and 6/2013  Rotator cuff surgeries.  
    1/6/2016 revision ACDF C4/5/6/7, plus fusing the level above that C 3-4.
    Pending L5-S1.
  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 9,859
    You are still pretty fresh out of ACDF surgery.
    You always have to remember, that any spinal surgery is an intrusion to your body and your body will take time to adjust to all of that.
    That is beyond any recovery, take a look at Recovery - the most important phase

    You are doing so much so quickly. Take it slow.

    I know that everyone heals at a different pace and each surgeon has their own ideas regarding recovery phases. We can only tell you stories
    about our own experiences, your doctor is the one that is the authority.
    D Indigo said:

    The post-op instructions were inadequate, with very minimal restrictions and no cervical collar because of the stability provided by the plate. I was told I could drive as soon as I was off the narcotics. This all gave me a false sense of security and by day 2 or 3, I was doing dishes, wrapping gifts and trying to do as much as possible. Not a great decision to push this much and neck pain and arm weakness came on with a vengeance. Unfortunately I have one of those spines that does not always let me know I am overdoing it until 2 days later.
    That is one (inadequate post-surgical instructions) I hear very often. But I have always viewed this as a two way street. Always read all the instructions that the doctor and hospital provide you before you leave. If there is anything in the list or things you have questions about, that was the time to ask, before you leave the hospital. (you= being general any patient)

    Like I said every doctor is different. When I had my ACDFs I had to wear a hard collar 24x7 for about 6 weeks. I also had the titanium plate and screws, but that didnt provide stability for me, just protected the fusion. I believe using the collar made a big difference, since my neck has been fine since the surgeries (1994 and 2000).

    Take it easy on yourself, you will have plenty of time in the future to do the things you want to do.
    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
  • Sue 1965SSue 1965 United KingdomPosts: 115
    Hi Donna-I'm in the UK and had C5/6 acdf on 211215-I had bad right arm pain,neck pain and back pain -headaches-all before surgery.I put up with the flare ups of all this for about 8 years.I am just over 3 weeks in and am still having right arm pain-I actually had more neck pain-at the back so understandable-and horrendous shoulder/shoulderblade pain since my op.Again I think this is pretty normal though.I have not had much in the way of headaches except for the last couple of days..
    I wasn't given much in the way of advice either-no collar as I also had the plate and I think because it was just one level.I did get a leaflet that said no light work until after 6 weeks but have got most advice actually from previous threads on here..Nick-funnily enough I came across yours last night and read it-interesting! I worry also about disturbing the fusion-I was a passenger in my husbands car yesterday and he was reversing out of a spot at the same time as another lady and we hit..thankfully I wasn't even aware we had..minimal damage and noone hurt-its only that the other driver stopped us that we realised we had touched-albeit very gently-bumpers! Did make me nervous though thinking what if? I'm not sure what level of activity could cause the fusion to not work.. I am impatient to get doing things too-want to be back at work-but realistically I know I can't yet-walking hurts the back of my head and neck-but I am persevering.I don't see my consultant-first time since op-until 1801.Hopefully will get a better picture at that time of what I can and can't do.I feel frustrated at times too-was it worth it? I won't fully know until I'm back at work-typing hurts my right arm if I do it for more than 5 minutes-I'm hardly using my arm due to the restrictions of lifting/resting so this worries me-if it hurts with this little movement-how will it be when I return to work? The thing is-even if it is-I was at a point where I had to try-my surgeon never said he would cure my back or neck pain-and my arm pain being cured was only 65%-but I had to try.. We have had major surgery-I think that we have ti give it time-hard as that may be-but I would still like to know if there are things I can do without risking affecting the fusion process! Good luck Donna.Sue
  • Appreciate the advice and agree 100% that I shouldn't have pushed so much. I just wish I had posted earlier. Nick (wow! 4 levels), you are not harsh at all and I sure hope your recovery goes quickly and well. Please post plenty of updates. Ron, I have read a lot of your posts and you are a wealth of information, including that link you shared. It is much better than the written instructions I received, which were a few bullet points about not lifting more than a gallon of milk or twisting my neck or bending.

    In my case I regret not using more common sense and finding this site sooner. I am keeping a positive attitude that I can still do well from this, but would rather have had the neurosurgeon err on the side of caution instead of taking a casual attitude about driving right away and other activities. He also said it would be fine for me to do the recumbent bike 3 weeks after surgery and I waited 4. Still too early, as it turns out. I mention this only to reinforce your point about listening to your body. Everyone is so different and therefore we must take full responsibility for our recovery.

    Something that strikes me is the disparity in post ACDF protocols across different practices. I have probably read instructions from 15 different neurosurgical sites and recommendations vary from quite loose to stringent.

    Anyway, thank you again and hope to 'see' you around.
  • Our situations are pretty similar, including dates and type of surgery, as well as concerns. I'm sorry that you're still in so much pain. I am taking comfort in the fact that we are still pretty early in the healing process and that area of our spine has been dealt a significant blow, albeit an ultimately helpful one (hopefully!). As for you wondering about whether you should have had the surgery, completely understandable, but it's not productive to even go there. If I may, you had significant pain and limitation over a long period, and that was a logical step to take. I, myself, worry about a lot of things but I refuse to 2nd guess that one.

    Since I came out of the gates way too fast after my surgery (it was Christmas time!), my mind goes to 'what if I somehow screwed up my ability to fuse ?' The slamming of the brakes and resulting neck jerk on day 9 still messes with my head sometimes. I don't remember that ever happening with my husband driving and wouldn't you know, the first time I am riding in a car after surgery...boom. If you didn't even feel the impact of the parking lot accident, I would be shocked if you had anything to worry about whatsoever. I really seems you are setting yourself up for success.

    Back to failed fusion. From what I have read here and various other places, it happens and for no good reason (which is totally unfair and STINKS), but is not so common if you are a non-smoker. The vast majority of people do fuse while they're living life, moving around and even screwing up on occasion. I'm sure you've found the same information. So fingers crossed that is the case for us.

    About your upper back pain and neck pain. I was told that the neck is hyper-extended during surgery so that they can access the area. That can cause muscle spasms and joint discomfort into the neck and back afterward. I have it too. Something I have been doing - and it helps - is leaning against a tennis ball on a wall and slowly rolling it around and applying pressure on the sore areas (avoiding the level of surgery). I also rotate my arms like a windmill (carefully) while pushing into the muscles on my shoulders and neck with my fingers, kind of like a trigger point release. May not work for others.

    This was a tad more long-winded than I anticipated. I wish you the best with your recovery, Sue.
  • Sue 1965SSue 1965 United KingdomPosts: 115
    Hi Donna-Thanks for the message-yes we are very similar!Thanks for the tips re the tennis ball! I have had headache now for 3 days-I am allergic to a lot of medication so have only been on paracetamol since the op-I read that ibuprofen can intefere with fusion so haven't taken any but have just rung the hospital where I had the op and they said I could take it-so maybe that and the paracetamol will help me a bit more! Thanks again! Sue
  • Nick.nyNNick.ny New York,NYPosts: 121
    I had failed fusion redone last Wednesday and I wasn't smoker or drinker occasionally a couple times a year I used to have only a glass(one) of wine,very fitted guy,155lbs at 52 I was coaching my son's college soccer team and played the game for full 90minutes and it failed. And the only thing to be blamed for that is ibuprofen. Excellent medication for me great pain relief sunce I had 4 rotator cuff surgeries after the spinal surgery I was taking it 3x daily at 800mg . This is what I was told by the doctors here. Right or wrong ????? I would call the surgeon and ask to talk to him personally about it and no one else before I take it.
    2011 ACDF C 4/5/6/7.
    2011 repaired sternum with fixation plate and 9 screws.
    4/2011,3/2012,11/2012 and 6/2013  Rotator cuff surgeries.  
    1/6/2016 revision ACDF C4/5/6/7, plus fusing the level above that C 3-4.
    Pending L5-S1.
  • Sue 1965SSue 1965 United KingdomPosts: 115
    Thanks Nick-I am seeing my consultant Monday..
  • Such great information....Donna I too felt like my post op directions were weak. My big concern is that. 5 days out I am having major issues with swallowing....did you have any problems with that?
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