I’m new to the forum and just wanted to try and establish what I can and cannot do in terms of exercise post ACDF.
Let me begin by providing a little background. In June 2012 I was training in the gym lifting relatively heavy weights. I was in the process of doing some military presses, which to be honest I was struggling with when after two or three reps it felt as if something in the rear of my left shoulder, for want of a better word ‘went’. There was a bit of pain but nothing too excessive initially but I immediately stopped because something felt wrong. I ended the session and throughout the day my shoulder and neck became progressively stiffer and sore. I initially thought that I had pulled a muscle trying too hard and in doing so pulled my neck hence the stiffness which I believed would wear off slowly. Unfortunately I was wrong. My neck became extremely painful over the proceeding days to the point that when I was laying down and wanted to move I had to physically place my hand underneath my head and lift to support it for any movement caused pain. I had pulsating pain in my left deltoid and arm that increased in intensity to the point that I had to physically support my left arm with my right in order to take some of the weight off it as this was causing pain. Fortunately there was some improvement after about 4 weeks but I was still experiencing fluctuating levels of pain, nipping in the neck, in the left deltoid and down through my arm including frequent involuntary twitches, spasms and pins and needles. At week 3 I sought advice from a minor injuries centre and then my local GP (doctor) at week 5 neither was able to diagnose or offer relief from my symptoms
By August 2012 I was still concerned by the lack of progress in my recovery so I visited my doctor again to discuss physical therapy. I was assigned to the local health centre physiotherapists but the sessions were far too short and made my symptoms worse. I was referred to a senior physio who examined me and then scheduled me for a MRI scan. This took place in mid-December 2012. I was then referred to see a neurosurgeon to discuss the results and possible action. This took place in mid-March 2013 but to cut a long story short whilst several discs weren’t great I had two disc levels that required attention, C5-C6 and C6-C7. I had some spinal cord restriction and nerve entrapment. This was resulting in the symptoms I’ve previously outlined as well as muscle wastage within my left rear deltoid, tricep and forearm. I also had weakness in grip and ability to lift objects with my left arm (but only in a particular range of motion and using a specific grip). There were also pins and needles in the fingers of left hand.
The proposed solution was to perform a 2 level ACDF (C5-C6 and C6-C7). This was undertaken on the 16th August 2013. No hardware or collar was required. Peek spacer implants were used to retain the new set height between the vertebra and I was back at work (desk job) after 5.5 weeks. I have seen my neurosurgeon briefly 4 weeks after surgery but no x-rays were done at that point. He was happy to discharge me and said that I could do normal activities again but just go easy. If it hurts then stop. Unfortunately this is all too vague for me and I wanted to avoid doing any further damage to my neck but also return to training when I could. Up until now (3.5 months) I have only been doing walking which I try to do an average of 2 hours/day but this is usually piece meal throughout the working week (mon-fri) as it is difficult to find time.
I did intend to return to the gym at the 3 month mark but I’m now waiting until the end of January to allow additional fusion time. I have begun to also do some very limited resistant band exercises over the last couple of weeks to try and slowly test how everything feels and begin to rebuild if possible my left rear deltoid. My problem is that I have a lack of direction in terms of what I can and cannot do by my neurosurgeon. Several attempts have been made to try and extract the additional detail from him via his secretary but this has proven fruitless. I have been doing research on the internet for returning to the gym post ACDF and there is a wealth of conflicting advice. Some say squats are fine some say squats should be avoid at all costs. The same is true for other exercises so now I’m more confused than ever. I need to know what exercises I am permitted to do and which ones should be avoided. Also if certain exercises should be avoided are there any safer alternatives? As my injury occurred in the gym I’m just wanting to be careful when I return whilst being the best I can. I apologise for the ridiculously long post but is anyone able to help me in establishing what can, should be and what shouldn’t be done within the gym post ACDF? Any help is greatly appreciated.