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ACDF Surgery Scheduled for November 21, 2011

hanson641hhanson641 Posts: 1
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:57 AM in Degenerative Disc Disease
I am new to this forum. I'm not sure what all I need to share and not share but here goes. I've been experiencing pain in my neck for years now but it became severe in February of this year. I made multiple visits to the local ER due to excruciating pain due to spasms followed by x-rays, mri, and myelogram. I tried treating it with a series of three epidural steroid injections which did help some only to have the pain return within weeks. I then attempted physical therapy which actually made everything much worse. Per my gen. practitioner's advice, I met with a spine surgeon and am now scheduled for ACDF surgery on November 21. While I am anxious to proceed with the surgery because I am hopeful it will help me, I am also extremely nervous. I'm told this is a major surgery from several other people who have gone through this. But I am also told it really helped them. I am fortunate in that I am having an incredibly competent surgeon perform it. He has been doing this for 31 years and is highly respected throughout the entire state. Whenever people ask me who is doing the surgery and I tell them they always say, "Wow, you couldn't have a better surgeon!" I am a 47 year-old and have had multiple surgeries in the past, several of them major, but for some reason I am uneasy about this one. I am hoping someone else who has been through this can share their experience with me. I've always been told I am a very strong individual and have a high pain tolerance so that doesn't really concern me. It's the "what-ifs". Things like: is it possible for your airways to completely shut off due to the post-surgery swelling? I mean, if it can swell enough to make swallowing difficult then isn't this a possibility? I have had issues with swelling in the past and have required steroids on one occasion. And what do they mean by "difficulty swallowing"? Ridiculous things like this seem to permeate my thoughts. I would greatly appreciate any feedback others are willing to provide.

Diagnosis: Degenerative cervical disk disease at C4, C5, C6, C7, cervical spinal canal stenosis with cord flattening, bone spurs.


  • I was worried about the swallowing problems pre op as well............. I didn't have any after the operation.
    ACDF C4-5 June 23rd, 2011

    Another surgery in the near future. I am 26 years old.

    Current Meds- Norco 7.5/325, Cymbalta 60mg, Gabapentin, Adderall 20mg
  • Hi ~ I can understand your concern re: swallowing, but I've talked to MANY folks who have had the same surgery, and none of them had trouble with this. Hopefully you'll be the same.

    One thing I hope your surgeon mentioned is you shouldn't go into surgery EXPECTING pain relief. Surgery is ONLY for repair of mechanical problems -- it very often doesn't relieve pain. Most times you're left with the same pain or worse after surgery. So make sure you talk to your doc about post-surgical pain medications. You're going to need them especially immediately following surgery.

    Also you should know that surgery can cause other levels to fail -- it's called the "domino effect." The levels above/below the surgery site tend to bulge/herniate due to having to take on more of the stress, and they become unstable. So you could end up needing more surgery somewhere down the line. Most doctors don't tell us this, unfortunately.

    I do hope this relieves your pain! Please keep us posted & God bless. Hugs, Lee
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  • I had my ACDF on 10/13/11 and am 2 weeks out as of today, don't eat hard or tough foods like steak, broccoli things you want to chew chew chew up until its puree like baby food before you swallow. If you do decide to eat hard or tough foods take small bites and chew chew chew. Do this the first 4 weeks it will give time for your throat to heal because it is irritated when it is pushed aside. I wish I would have started on my liquid diet while I was healing. I am starting on that now and it makes it so much better. My husband and I watched a video about Fat,Sick, nearly dead and the gentleman spoke of being on a juice reboost for your body that's why we started after my surgery. It really has helped with several things it help me cleanse my body of the toxins from the pain meds I was on and also help my cells to do their job in rebuilding my body from the inside. It really works. Take your time, heal properly. I am stiff when I wake up in the morning but I am getting better when getting up and walking everyday 30 mins or so a day. I had a 1 level ACDF C6-7. I wish you the best and believe me when I say go into your surgery feeling good, help you mind to say I am going to feel great and my life is great and will be greater. Keep positive thoughts and relax it will be fine. You will feel great and you will do great.

  • I had ACDF - 4 level on May 2. Because I was having some swallowing and esophogus issues before the surgery (GI issues) my surgeon also had a head & neck surgeon involved to do the opening and closing. The reason for the issues with swallowing is partially from swelling but is also related to the irritation from things being moved aside to get to the spinal area. That irritation has to heal. I was told ahead of time if there was concern about the amount of swelling they may keep the breathing tube in an extra day. They explained what to expect if I awoke with the breathing tube in.

    I was prepared and when I awoke in my room I did have the tube in. I didn't panic. I made a motion like writing, and they gave me a pad and paper to write on and converse that way. The next morning they took out the tube and although I had the anticipated issues swallowing, it wasn't much different from what others encountered. Eat foods that are thick and smooth - mashed potatoes worked well, ice cream, pudding, etc., and carbonated or thick beverages worked best. Water was the toughest to swallow for quite a while. Take really small bites and see what works for you.

    Good luck!
    4 level ACDF C4-C7 5-2-11, laminectomy & discectomy L4-L5 1/26/12, ALIF L4-5, L5-S1 12/10/12.
  • Hi Hanson!
    I am new to this forum, as well. I had an ACDF C4-7 in 2009. I have had 18 various surgeries in my life, and the ACDF was by far the most painful. I also have a high tolerance for pain. The ACDF was the first surgery where I required pain medication. I had to wear a hard collar for 4 months following surgery. Then a soft collar for awhile.

    My neurosurgeon was one of the top five in the US and treated my condition aggressively. I have a new neurosurgeon this time around.

    The pain never did seem to subside. I have had residual difficulty swallowing - the difficulty is not from swelling. It's from damage done to nerves and muscles that have to be moved to the side for access to the spine during surgery. It is a known side-effect of the surgery and can be permanent (as mine is). What it means, is that I must eat small bites and dry foods may need some help going down. I use mashed potatoes with beef, apple sauce with pork chops, water, etc. You get the idea. I have some medications that are difficult to swallow due to their size. You learn to regurgitate the item and try swallowing it again. I know, gross. It's better than choking to death....

    Recently, new MRI's and x-rays were done. C3 has now degenerated. As stated by others, once you have the ACDF, the vertebrae above and below it will degrade at a faster rate. In three months the C3 disc degenerated to the point of being so thin that the bones have begun to fuse on their own. The doctor wanted to put an artificial disc in, but he cannot do that now. He will need to do a laminectomy. A laminectomy is removal of the bone on the back part of the vertebra and any bone spurs, etc. to releive compression on the spinal cord. I am already showing signs of spinal cord injury. Hopefully, they will not be permanent.

    The laminectomy is performed posteriorly (through the back of the neck) and I'm told is more painful than the ACDF because more musculature is cut. My surgery is November 11.

    Just know that you will get through this. Hopefully your surgery will alleviate your pain. Surgery makes me extremely nervous, too. You'd think I'd be used to them by now....

    No escape from reality

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  • Had ACDF C3-7 with Iliac Crest bone graft and hardware (titanium plates and screws. Had surgery Monday 17 October 2011 and doing great. Have first post-op visit with surgeon 8 November. I had injured my neck over 10 years ago and dealt with pain (often times debilitating) off and on for many years. Re-injured my neck back in early September exercising. Had severe neck pain with associated right arm pain and radiculopathy. Surgery took almost 6 hours, two night stay in the Hospital. Recovery thus far has been trying, but uneventful. I still wear a hard cervical collar (mainly when asleep) and hope to have it removed for good next week. I took pain meds for first week, but haven't needed them since. I do have a few issues however. Although all my pain was gone instantly after surgery I'm still experiencing numbness in my right index finger. My mouth doesn't open as wide and is somewhat uncomfortable if I try and force it to. I have some numbness at the surgical sight (to be expected), but I also have some decreased sensation on areas of my scalp (I shave my head) and find this to be odd. I also have difficulty with swallowing some foods and feel as though I'm choking sometimes when eating. I've adjusted this by taking smaller bites and chewing longer. I will address these small issues with my surgeon when I see him next week. Has anyone else had experiences similar to these? This site has been great and has provided me with many answers. Hope all are well!
  • Some of the numbness will discipate over the next few months / year. I still have some numbness near the incision sites, but it doesn't bother me.

    The difficulty swallowing I still have. Like you, I take small bites. My biggest problem is taking meds that are large in size and cannot be cut or crushed. I haven't had any difficulty opening my mouth wide.

    Sometimes procedures that various surgeons follow amaze me. My fusion was C4-7, titanium plate and screws. But I had to wear a hard collar for four months. I was allowed to wear a soft collar to bed.

    Next week I will have a laminectomy, C3-4. Hopefully, this will alleviate my radiculopathy and myelopathy.

    I am glad that you had immediate pain relief. My doctor believes the laminectomy will give me immediate relief. I sure hope so.
  • Thanks Neo. I see the physician tomorrow and I have my questions. I'm hoping x-rays are taken and show that I'm healing well. Feel pretty good overall and I appreciate your post in seeing that someone else has had similar issues. Thanks for the help.
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