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ACDF surgery scheduled for 3/7/11 and very nervous

oliversmommaooliversmomma Posts: 24
edited 06/11/2012 - 7:50 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hey everyone!

I am so glad I found this forum! I am 32 years old and have had chronic neck pain and shoulder blade pain for the past year. It started out as just being a little bit of neck pain and numbness in my hand. It has now progressed to be neck pain, arm/shoulder pain, and hand pain/numbess. I had an MRI of my C-Spine last year that showed a bulging disc at C5-C6. The "Doctor" that ordered the test never called me regarding the results and basically just dropped the ball. Our of sheer frustration, I put my pain off up until about a month ago. We just bought our first home and there is so much to do. I started having serious pain in my hand and also in my neck and shoulder. I returned to a different Dr. that a coworker referred me to very reluctantly. He read my MRI from last year and was very upset that the previous Dr. basically dropped the ball. He ordered a repeat MRI and NCS/EMG. The MRI still showed the bulging disc and now showed bone spurs in same area. The NCS showed that the nerves on the left side are being pinched. He has talked to me and told me we could go with the steriod injections and the spine block etc, but in the long run, I would have a very high chance of needing the surgery anyway. My mother has had the same procedure done so he also stated it could be something genetically with my vertebrae.

So I am scheduled for the surgery and now very nervous. I am doubting myself about whether the pain is bad enough, is the surgery gonna help take the pain away, etc.

Questions to ya'll would be:

Do you think my issues are severe enough for the surgery?
Did any of you have neck pain and did the surgery help?
Did any of you have chronic headaches and did the surgery help with that?

Thanks in advance for the reponse and I'm glad I've found people that can relate!!!

P.S. For those of you post op, can you please tell me about your recovery time?


  • oliversmomma,

    I had an ACDF two years ago (C5-C7) and had many of the same symptoms that you are suffering from. Pain around my shoulder blade, going down my arm and into my fingers. The surgery really helped with the pain but I had some permanent nerve damage (my spinal cord was damaged from the herniated discs) and my thumb and index finger are still numb, they still function just fine just loss of feeling. I still get occasional muscle spasms in my shoulder blades but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was before surgery. Usually they go away on their own after a couple of hours, only when it is really bad (maybe once a month) I’ll take a valium and it will calm things down in pretty short order.

    With regard to your questions, only your doctor and you can determine if your issues warrant surgery. The best thing you can do is get multiple opinions from different Neuro/Ortho surgeons. My neck didn’t hurt per se, it was more in my shoulder, arm and fingers. I thankfully did not have headaches, so I can’t comment on that. Recovery was more inconvenient than hard. I had to wear a neck brace for a month and couldn’t drive. Were it not for that I could have gone back to work after about two weeks, but had to stay out for four. I was able to get off the pain killers after about two weeks. I couldn’t lift anything over ten pounds for about three months, except in physical therapy. So total recovery time for me was three months, but was back to work in one. If you have small children the lifting restrictions can be a problem. I have a twenty month old and just had lumbar spine surgery three months ago and am only now able to pick him up. When I had my neck surgery I had fully recovered by the time my son was born so it wasn’t a big deal.

    Hope you start feeling better!

  • First everyone recovers differently and doctors are different on their restrictions and using neck collars etc.. so more than happy t share my experience but you should also ask your DR too!
    Your post says your issue is with C5-C6 - so is your ACDF a 1-level to remove that disc and I assume maybe the bone spurs. If your ACDF is 1-level your recovery time may be quicker than say a 2-level or more ACDF Surgery. I had a 2 level C5/C6 & C6/C7 ACDF surgery on 12/6. I injured myself lifting something very heavy above my head! My pain was severe and debilitiating. My MRI showed both discs were compressing my spinal cord and if I did not have the surgery I would be at risk of permanent spinal cord damage - possbible paralysis! My severe pain was in Right Arm and Shoulder - not so much in my neck.. the surgery immediately relieved my severe pain as soon as I woke up. I also had no muscle strength at all in my right arm and loss of feeling in 3 fingers. I have regained the feeling back in my fingers but my arm strength is still only about 50% back and they said will take months. When they took out my 2 discs - my spinal cord was dented in so it was worse than what the MRI showed. I have no regrets on this surgery. I am still recovering and in Physical Therapy 3X per week for 8 weeks and will return to work in the 1st week of March. I was not cleared for work right away. I only had to wear a hard collar for 2 weeks and then nothing. I cannot lift anything heavier than 10 lbs and hoping that restriction is lifted at my 3 month appt as I have 4 year old twins! Don't need to lift them much anymore but it would be nice sometimes!
    My pain level now is still everyday but mostly muscle and I never had any headaches so not sure about that! I also use valium at night to relax the muscles -works much better than some actual muscle relaxers for me anyway!
    Let us know if you want anymore info. I would also suggest a 2nd opinion if you are doubting the surgery and make a list of all questions. Ask your Dr's about having to wear a hard or soft collar and for how long? Ask them if you have to wear any type of bone stimulator? Will you have any lifting restrictions and for how long? Will you need Physical Therapy (I highly recommend) and if so for how long? If you don't get the surgery what are the risks?
    Good luck and keep us posted on how you are doing!
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  • I just have an ACDF on Feb 11th for C5-C6 with exactly the same symptoms you have on the left side, except I also had dizziness. The last month before surgery, I started to get symptoms on the right side, too. I had the same thoughts you had about whether my symptoms were bad enough to warrant surgery. Surgery is a very personal choice. They are people on this forum who would wait longer and those who opted for surgery. Only you will know when is the right time!

    Personally, I tried everything: acupuncture, PT, chiropractic, massage therapy and steroid injections. I realized I made the right decision because I found myself in pain most of the time and it interfered with my quality of life.

    I am glad I had the surgery. Feel free to PM me if you want to know more. :)

    2011 ACDF C5-6 for Spondylosis with Myleopathy
    2012 L4-5 herniated disc and hernated disc at C4/5 2013 Taking Amitriptyline for headaches
  • Oliversmomma,

    First off, Welcome to Spine Health!! You've found a great resource here.

    My first ACDF was my C5/6 in 2008 after putting it off for almost 2 years. I didn't know about sites such as this, and I was freaked out about "spine surgery", and sharp things near my cord!! My surgeon agreed to let me put off surgery until my disk was on the cord, and I went from just pain to numbness and weakness - was now risking paralysis.

    Luckily I had great results with the surgery. I awoke and all symptoms were gone! I actually started crying in recovery because I was so happy! A little over a year later my C6/7 went just yawning! See my history, my neck was messed up with trauma of a helicopter crash.

    Most surgeons don't offer surgery lightly. If you are having doubts, please present those to him/her and discuss "if you wait", "if you have the surgery now" and the risks and benefits. I just know myself, my 'body' told me when I was in need of surgery. I have no regrets on the nerve surgeries I've had to date. Please let us know how it goes.

    Again, Welcome aboard!!! :)

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • I went and got 2 surgical opinions from an orthopedist and neurosurgeon. I also went and saw a chiropractor and neurologist. The two surgeons said I needed surgery, the other two said it could wait.

    My MRI showed DDD and bone spurs at C5, C6 & C7. I didn't have headaches but I felt like someone was stabbing me in the scapula and I had lots of finger pain and numbness.

    I have an anxiety disorder so getting a 2 level ACDF was a big decision for me. I finally decided that my level of activity was being compromised and I'd rather risk the surgery than being in discomfort evey day.

    I'm only two days post op so I can't offer a lot of advice right now. Here are a few bits of advice I will offer: I downloaded a presrugical anxiety MP3 for free from blaketalks.com. I listened to it every night before my surgery and it helped immensely.

    The post op pain (so far) isn't that bad. I started out as a 6 out of 10 but it quickly went down to a 2 or 3 ot of 10.

    I used the pain pump for the first few hours in the hospital but quickly changed to just Tylenol. (Advil is my NSAID of choice but they said not to use it for 6 weeks post op!) My biggest problem is swallowing. I can still eat but I feel like there is a lump in my throat.

    My finger pain has decreased already so I am happy about that.

    I can't offer any more advice until I am further along in my recovery but I'm happy that it wasn't as bad as I imagined. I work in a hospital and have seen and heard some real horror stories.

    If you smoke, now is the time to quit as I have heard that this can interfere with the fusion process. Good luck and keep us posted.

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  • Hi there,
    I had a 3-level ACDF one month ago today, and thought I would tell you about my experience. My situation is a little different from many others, I think, because I had no pain pre-op. I was having a little bit of hand weakness, and a very thorough neurologist ran many tests, including an MRI which showed several disks touching my spinal cord. Even though I wasn't having serious symptoms, my neurological exam was not normal, and it was explained to me that ignoring the problem would eventually lead to further loss of function (which I might never get back), and that I would be vulnerable for serious spinal cord injury if I were to get into some kind of accident.
    I would recommend to anyone to get many opinions. I went to 3 different neurosurgeons to get opinions based on my MRI and their own examination of me, and it made me feel a little better that there was consensus on what I should do. Also, it allowed me to compare the three practices and the thoroughness of the docs so that then I could better choose which one would be the best for me.
    I was very scared about the whole thing (I've had 3 babies, but have never had surgery in my life!), but the prospect of possibly paralyzing myself by not addressing this convinced me that I needed to suck it up and do it.
    Based on my research, I was most concerned about potential swallowing or voice complications. Luckily, neither of those were a problem for me. However, I did have a pretty significant and unexpected complication, and that was nerve damage from the surgery (C5 and C6 we think) that has caused impairment of my arms (the right is far worse than the left). I have been told from the beginning that I will eventually gain everything back, but it has been slow progress and I still have trouble doing a lot of basic things on my own. This was not something I even remotely expected, but physical therapy is helping and I am confident that I will fully recover and I also don't blame my surgeon.
    I will say, my neck feels pretty good considering the amount of hardware I now have there and I am no longer required to wear the neck brace. If it wasn't for my arm issues, I would feel cautiously back to normal at this point. I am 41 and I think the younger you are, the quicker you bounce back.
    I don't know if any of this helps, but from my experience doing lots of research and getting lots of advice will help you feel more comfortable with the decision and will put you in control of your choices. Good luck :)
  • Having surgery in morning 3/7/11at7am

    ACD at 3/4 4/5 fusion 5/6

    Posterior wiring.
  • Caddo,

    By the time you read this I am sure you will be post-op. But just wanted to wish you well with surgery, and let us know how your doing, as soon as you can.
  • Well wishes your way! Hope all is successful and you are on the road to recovering and painfree days ahead!
  • Wishing you a successful surgery and a speedy recovery! Please let us know how everything went. >:D<
    2011 ACDF C5-6 for Spondylosis with Myleopathy
    2012 L4-5 herniated disc and hernated disc at C4/5 2013 Taking Amitriptyline for headaches
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