Hospital Care After ACDF Surgery

The goal of the one- or two-day hospital stay following anterior cervical discectomy and fusion surgery, or ACDF, is to keep the patient as comfortable and mobile as possible while preparing for long-term recovery at home.

Cervical RadiculopathyRadiating pain, numbness, and tingling in the arms and hands, known as radiculopathy, may persist even after ACDF surgery. Watch: Cervical Radiculopathy Interactive Video

Typically, the patient will return home on the same day as the surgery or spend one night in the hospital, but it may be longer depending on the patient's health condition. While in the hospital or surgery center, the patient will usually be given pain medication as needed, monitored while eating in case there are swallowing problems, and helped to walk.

After the Surgery

Initially, the patient may experience one or any or a combination of the following:

  • Pain in the area of the surgery. Neck and arm pain as well as tingling and numbness may be encountered.
  • Pain where the bone graft was taken. If the patient's own bone was used, the area of the hip where the bone graft was taken may be painful.
  • Difficulty swallowing and sore throat. Having a sore throat and difficulty swallowing are common after surgery. The medical term for this is dysphagia. While the problem of a sore throat usually goes away within a week, the swallowing problem, or dysphagia, may linger.
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Patients are placed on a clear liquid diet at first, with the hospital staff checking for swallowing problems. Solid food is added if swallowing is not an issue. Throat lozenges and cool liquids ease the pain in cases where swallowing problems persist.

Patients are typically given narcotic pain medications intravenously after surgery to alleviate their initial postoperative pain and discomfort. The patient may be provided with a pump to self-administer (within limits) the amount and timing of pain medication. Muscle relaxers may also be prescribed for patient comfort. The IV line will usually be taken out when the patient shows the ability to eat, drink, and take medications in pill or capsule form.

Walking After Surgery

A few hours after surgery, the individual will be helped out of bed to take a short walk. After that, the patient will usually be directed to walk every 2 or 3 hours (during waking hours). Getting the blood moving from walking helps prevent pneumonia, blood clots, and constipation, and aids the healing process.

As a practical point, patients may find it best to come prepared to get up and walk shortly after surgery by bringing items such as safe slip-on shoes (many people like Crocs), and shorts or a robe for modesty when walking the halls. Also, it is easier to get dressed before going home with a shirt that buttons up the front (rather than one that goes on over the head), easy pants, such as sweat pants, and slip-on shoes.

Hospital or surgery center staff members will make sure the patient is stable before being sent home. The patient should make sure that he or she is fully informed of at-home care and safe recovery. The rest of this article provides information on the typical stages of recovery at home.

Written by David DeWitt, MD