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3 weeks post ACDF - shoulder pain, tingling hands, can't sleep on my back

dehoyos13ddehoyos13 Posts: 291
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:39 AM in Neck Pain: Cervical
Hi everyone. I was diagnosed with these herniated disks in 2006. After trying conservative treatment and therapy, the pain in my neck, muscle spasms and tingling in my left arm/hand become unmanageable. I'm 3 weeks post-op from ACDF c3-4,c5-6. My surgery was about 5 hours long. My surgeon said that I has a lot of bleeding during the procedure. At this point, I'm still needing the prescribed Vicoden at least twice a day with Tylenol in the middle of the day.

Since the surgery I've had my right arm (previously no symptoms). Also, depending on the position I sleep in, my hands are tingling. I cannot sleep on my back, partly because of the tingling, partly because of pressure in my throat. I've begun a walking regimen but when I get home, my throat feels as if there's a golf ball stuck in there.

Food tastes bland... I don't know anyone who's had this procedure and the internet doesn't really provide much info beyond this website.

Can anyone shed some light or share their experience? I'm so ready to be well, I'm following my dr's orders. I'll have my first xray on Dec. 16th.

Thanks, I appreciate it.


  • Everything you are going through I also experienced after my ACDF. I had tingling in my right hand I had never had. Things do get better. I will probably always have numbness in my left arm because of permanent nerve damage. It takes time and some symptoms may never go away although the surgery did relieve a lot of my pain. Remember each person is different although some symptoms are the same, we heal at different speeds. Good luck and feel better.
  • After my two-level acdf, I had right shoulder and arm pain for 3 weeks. I had no right side issues pre-surgery so I was fairly concerned.

    Spoke to my Dr. who said to give it some time. It slowly went away and now ten weeks post-op all right side pain issues have gone away.

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  • Yes, I have this. My hands are numb and tingly. Sometimes they are a bit better but now that I'm feeling better and doing more I have burning pain between my shoulder blades. I'm almost 4 weeks post c3/4 acdf. Currently fused from c3-c6. Never had the tingling before surgery so I too am hoping it will go away. I was told the same thing by my doc, just wait and see. VERY frustrating!
  • I'm only 17 days post-op from a multiple ACDF C 4-6 and experiencing ruthless burning and stabbing pain throughout my shoulders and pain in back and sides of my neck. I also have numbness all around the incision site where I have no feeling sensation at all. It concerns me and I talked to my surgeons nurse and she said the feeling should return in a couple of days, but it's still the same. I had left arm and hand pain b4 surgery and it has all gone away but the neck and shoulder pain has increased and is more widespread now than before the surgery and very painful and annoying.

    I was told I may have permanent nerve damage that's responsible for this continued intense pain that may never go away. If it doesn't get better by 2 month period, than it is an inclination that it's permanent for me.

    I wasn't able to lay down to sleep either, felt like I couldn't breath from the golf ball in the throat feeling too, but only for the first 5 days, but now I'm back in my bed laying down o.k. except for the stiffness I get in the a.m.
    I still feel the pressure in my throat and occassionally I choke on my meds and some types of foods. They say it can take up to 8 weeks for your throat and swallowing issues to go away.

    As someone else replied, we're all different in the healing process and it takes time to heal, if at all, but it's too early for us to tell at this point.

    Hope this helps you. To my surprise, there are so many people who have had this procedure done and the majority of us are still having issues that the surgery was supposed to "fix". As you research, you will find alot of people who have had failed surgeries with their cervical and lumbar spine.

    Just try to stay positive and hope for the best even with the statistics you have been given. I hope you get relief soon. I need some too!
  • Thanks for the posts. After 2 nights of sleeping well, I had another miserable night. I slept about 2.5 hours and then was wide awake and hurting. While I'm glad that the majority of my presurgery symptoms are gone, these recovery symptoms are no joke! I'm going crazy being at home so much. I was in the car last week as my husband drove and cried all the way home. I live in NYC and our bumpy streets were havoc on my neck.

    So I read that no sleeping is common. I used Tylenol PM for those good 2 nights, but last night it didn't work at all. While my doctor is world-renown and his staff is friendly enough, getting to his PA is nearly impossible! I don't know what I can and cannot do other than what I've read here. I can't drive yet...sitting for more than 30 or 40 minutes means pain for a good couple of hours. I'm glad for this forum...its gives me hope that this will get better. Thank you!!!!
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  • Hi dehoyos, welcome to Spine-Health. It sounds like you need a lot of info so I'm glad you found us. The forum members are very knowledgeable, friendly and supportive. This site also has a ton of info outside of the forums.

    I just want to remind you that you're still very early in your recovery. Three weeks is really a very short amount of time after such a major surgery. I had a 3-level and I can tell you that the recovery process is commonly very slow and, unfortunately, can be very boring, as well. Because you can't bend, lift or twist (aka BLT), you can't use the recovery period as a chance to get caught up on housework or anything else. This is a good time to get caught up on movies, books and games.

    Do you have a recliner? I found that sitting in the recliner in the reclined position to be a very comfortable way to sit. I also slept in my recliner for the first two weeks or so.

    You didn't mention if you're wearing a brace..are you? If so, is it a hard or soft collar?

  • Cath, no. The doctor didn't give me a neck brace. It was never even mentioned. I wondered about it but I didn't ask either, which is silly. I know that a patient is supposed to ask questions. And while my surgeon is world renown, he isn't very forthcoming with information. I wasn't given any post op instructions other than no housework, no bending forward, no leaning.

    I called the office today after having such a bad night. His PA wrote out a script for Valium to help with muscle spasms and my lack of sleep. Does anyone know how well this works. Valium....sounds serious. I have learned through this recovery that I am not as patient as I thought I was. I'm trusting that when all is said and done, I'll be fabulous. But in the interim....I'll take it day by day. some days are better than others. I just wish I had a list of things I can and cannot do.

  • Really, a list of things not to do is pretty simple. You shouldn't lift over 5 pounds, you should bend over very much, and you really shouldn't move your head too much. You shouldn't do laundry, rake the yard, shovel the sidewalks, etc. etc. etc. This is major surgery and you have the added complication that it's your spine. If you're anything like me, you'll be aware of your neck every day and with everything you do for quite a while. I still am and I'm over a year post-op.

    I don't understand doctors who do surgery on your cervical spine and don't have you wear a brace and/or give you instructions on what you can and can't do post-op. It's common sense that you shouldn't jerk your head to one side or another when something startles you - but it's easy to do without a brace. You shouldn't use your chin to chest to hold a hanger while you put slacks on them either, but it's easy to forget that (can't tell you how many time it took before I remembered I can't).

    Oh, sorry for my rant there. Anyway, DY, please just use common sense when you do anything at this time in your recovery. You have a long way to go before you're going to feel fabulous again, so take care of yourself and take it easy.


    PS - feel free to PM me if you have questions or want to vent. I understand how difficult and ACDF and recovery can be.
  • The problems with your throat are "known complications" from this type of surgery. Luckily, I didn't experience such things but it took me a long time to recover from surgery. If you had a lot of blood loss, you'll probably be very fatigued for a while and should try and get a lot of rest.

    I have spinal stenosis and had severe problems prior to my neck surgery (fusion of C4-C5-C6), with multi-level nerve compression, many large bone spurs, and severe spinal cord compression. I came close to paralysis, due to the compression. After the surgery, I had much less of my "usual" pain but many new and weird sensations (pains), perhaps from nerves "waking up" after long-term compression.

    Prior to the surgery, much of my pain was in my shoulders and arms. After the surgery, the pain was mainly in my neck and back of my head. I wore a neck brace for several weeks -- can't believe you don't have one -- and also required very strong pain meds (Percocet plus Soma) for the first two months. Without these drugs, I would not have been able to sleep at all. I required lower strength prescription pain meds for another 3 or 4 months, and two rounds of physical therapy. I was also given two rounds of steroids shortly after my surgery.

    I could not lift more than 5 pounds for several weeks after surgery -- not only did the doctor tell me this, but I simply couldn't do it.

    I'm about 3 years post-op, and it took me a full 15 to 18 months to regain strength in my arms, and also to regain hand dexterity that had been lost prior to my surgery. I still have some weakness and other problems.

    Most people probably don't have the severe problems I had prior to surgery, so other people probably recover from their surgeries faster than I did. Even so, you should expect a 3 to 6 month period before you can resume truly "normal" activities. Returning to work (if you work) probably depends on the type of job you do.

    My spinal stenosis isn't limited to my neck. In March of this year, I had another surgery to fuse my lumbar spine at L3-L4-L5. I discovered that recovering from neck surgery is much, much easier than recovering from back surgery. No matter what problems you're still having, it probably doesn't compare to the after-effects of lumbar fusion surgery.
  • Cath...I don't know how to send PMs. I'm new to this forum but I'm so glad for your responses. The hard part about all of this is that since I don't have any written guidelines I have to kinda hit and miss whether something is ok or not. Yesterday for instance, I sat for probably 4 hours (changed positions a few times). OH MY WORD!!!!! I was in so much pain last night that even 2 Vicoden only took the edge off. I almost went to the ER but thankfully, I finally fell asleep around 3am. Had to get up at 7am so needless to say I'm tired.

    Rockfish...thanks for sharing your experience and boy and I sorry to hear about your lumbar surgery. I cannot imagine anything worse than this. I think a lot of doctors don't give neck braces because of the plates they put in...supposedly the brace is for support but I would have appreciated a literal reminder of what I can not do....not the painful reminder however. And while I'm so glad that my doctor is good and what he does, I'm disappointed that his office is not as easily accessible as it should be. He's great, his surgical coordinator...not so much. But I finally got her yesterday and she left me an rx for Valium. So hopefully I'll sleep tonight.

    I didn't know it would be this hard to recovery. Most websites that I researched for this procedure gave the impression that it wasn't so hard. It took weeks before I found this forum. I wish I had found it before the surgery. I would still have done the procedure after 3 years of serious pain but at least I would have been better prepared.

    I'm glad now though that I've found it. It helps to know that there are others out there who have been here and understand the frustration, pain and boredom.
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