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ACDF Recovery
ACDF28 posted:
I underwent ACDF (anterior cervical discectomy & fusion) of C4-6 on March 9, 2011. I cannot pinpoint a specific event that occurred to cause my severe herniations, but my entire torso and chest cavity is misshapen, so I suppose my neck was merely compensating. I am a 28 year old female. 5'6" 120lbs.

My surgeon removed 2 disks, inserted 2 bone grafts in a "cage" and secured the 3 surrounding vertebrae with a plate & 6 screws. He advised me to wear my Aspen hard collar for 6 weeks, 23 hrs/day, however, when I went to my "wound check" at 2 weeks, his partner advised me that I did not have to wear the collar when I was sleeping or if I was just sitting around watching TV.

I followed the doctor's orders and at around 3 weeks, started removing the collar more and more throughout the day. I am at 5 weeks post op now and feel great, but when I went to see the surgeon yesterday, he was very disappointed that his partner gave me the green light and punished me by asking me to wear the collar again 23/7 for the next 2 weeks, but after that point, I could remove it and resume normal activities (within reason, of course).

I just wanted to get another opinion or two on this and see what others have been told as far as recovery time goes. I go to physical therapy 3x per week to help improve the movement in my right arm (the nerve was severely compressed before the surgery and although the pain is gone now, I do not have full use & range.) It is very difficult for me to get rides to the PT office 3x per week and I feel as if I could drive without being a hazard to other drivers. Honestly, I was probably a much higher risk before the surgery.

Anyway, I'd love to hear what others have been told in this same situation.

Thank you for your help.
bj1208 responded:
hi and welcome to the support group -

please remember that we are all different and recovery times are different for everyone - one person can be told that a fusion surgery can take up to 3-4 months recovery while others may take up to a year or longer.

I had Anterior Lumbar Fusion L5-S1 - and was told that recovery time could take up to 5 months maybe longer - I was able to speak with 2 other patients that had same operation - one was pain free in 3 months and the other was out hitting 9 holes of golf by 5 months -

you can have another surgeon review and see if everything is on track - an Orthopedic Spine Specialist would give you more insight - a Neurosurgeon would tell you to see your original surgeon -

hope this helps - take care - Joy
Ari Ben-Yishay, MD responded:
There are many surgeons who do not put ANY of their pts into a hard collar after this operation. Others routinely do it. I would follow your surgeons advise but recognize that not wearing the collar full time probably is not going to lead to a bad outcome. Good luck and recover smoothly.
Dr. Ben Yishay
ACDF28 replied to bj1208's response:
I understand that everyone is different, I guess I just feel odd because I am only 5 weeks post op and I feel great! I FEEL as if I can do just about anything. When I read 3,4,5 months and more, I think, "Wait a minute... am I overdoing it?"

Thank you for your comment! It's unbelievable how many people suffer from these kinds of issues. Until this happened to me, I had no clue!

Take care
ACDF28 replied to Ari Ben-Yishay, MD's response:
Thank you. That is encouraging. I just worry that I'm "overdoing it" although I do not feel like I am. Next Wednesday will be 6 weeks and I am hoping to start looking for a job, which means driving. (I was conveniently laid off right before this surgery). I guess I'm looking for more insight on the driving thing. Is it unreasonable to think I can drive after 6 weeks? My doctor said no soft collar for driving, but I've heard that others require it. What do you think about the timing and collar issues?

Thank you for your comment!

teracon1 responded:
Hello there. I am due to undergo surgery on 6/2. I am a bit nervous, not because of the risk of being put to sleep, but knowing that I had something removed from my spine.

Over 3 months ago, I started to get real bad pain in my left arm that kept my up at night - getting about 4 hrs sleep a night. It then went to getting numb. After an X-ray and MRI, the diagnosis was bone spurs and severe narrowing in C4 and C5. Within the last month, the pain in my arm stopped, the numbness is about 95% gone, but I now have sporadic pain at the back of my neck going to the right side of my head. My surgeon said that it is likely inflammation due to the compressed discs.

He gave me a prognosis of being out of work for about 2 weeks and wearing the brace for 8-10 weeks. He didn't specify about time away from driving. I wanted to ask how your pain was after surgery and have you noticed anything limitations in movement, as well as complications. I am a 36 y/o male 5'4 and have never had any trauma to my neck or back. I appreciate your feedback... Chris
ACDF28 replied to teracon1's response:
Hey Chris,
Like you, my pain changed a lot. I would go for a few weeks without pain, then it would come back worse than the time before.
I just went to my 3 mo. post op appointment this morning. The difference is like night and day. I waited way too long to have the surgery so my nerve was severely damaged. I am still in therapy to gain the strength back in my right arm, but it will come. The pain though is completely gone. So, to answer your questions... the pain after surgery was moderate. I felt like a bobblehead for about a week, but at about 3 weeks, I felt pretty good and started to ween myself off the pain meds. I had one complication and I do have some limitations in movement. My complication was due to the anesthesia and had nothing to do with my spine, but the limitations in movement were directly related, but like I said, it was all due to the fact that I waited too long to have the surgery. I can't put my chin all the way to my chest (I had 2 discs removed / 3 vertebrae fused), I can't tilt my head all the way to my shoulder and I get tired easily. I think I will eventually have better range, but I have not started doing any real neck exercises because I've focused most of my time on improving my arm issues. After the surgery I couldn't lift my right arm at all. Now, I can finally reach over my head and carry just about anything. It has been a long road, but I wouldn't trade it for anything! Anyway, good luck with everything and if you have any other questions or just need some words of encouragement, let me know!
michelestefanie replied to ACDF28's response:
Hi Abby,

I was wondering how you are feeling now. I underwent the same as you. I felt like it was me writing. I had C4-C6 fused in March of this year. My whole cervical curve was opposite and my torso was misshaped as well...pretty weird. Did you have any pain in your upper abdomen or ribcage area as well?
h34miller responded:
hello! I am going to have ACDF cervical surgery soon, trying to find out more about recovery, and when I can return to work, I have a physical job, with a lot of lifting, all the doctors will tell me, is at least 6 weeks, I would like to here from someone that has the same kind of work ,and had the surgery.
bj1208 replied to h34miller's response:
hi and welcome to the support group -

I did not have this type of surgery but will tell you everyone is different especially on healing time and provided that you follow the doctors advise and rest rest and rest. one person may take 6 weeks while another may take up to a year and it will depend on how many discs are involved among other things.

hope this helps - there should be someone responding to your post that has had this.

good luck and keep us posted - Joy
ACDF28 replied to h34miller's response:
Everyone recovers at different rates, but unfortunately, you never know until you actually go through it. After my surgery, I experienced some nerve damage which made my right arm almost completely unusable. I couldn't lift it at all and went through months of PT. The doctors were confident that it would come back, but it did take a while. As far as heavy lifting goes, I couldn't even lift my arm over my head for about 4 months after my surgery. But I do know of a man who was very fit to start with, went through the surgery and was back to lifting weights about 8 weeks later. Anything sooner than that I would think would be risky. I wish you the best of luck.

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