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Hi everyone,

I am scheduled for an C5-C6 ACDF, and was wondering what the typical recovery time/path was for people who had the same type of surgery. My surgeon said to plan on 6 weeks out of work (I have a desk job), and to really watch my activities for 3-6 months after surgery. Is this the typical recovery time period? Also, any hints/tips for recovery?

The reason I ask is because I know of someone who had an ACDF done and was only out of work for 1 week (desk job). I have to talk to work soon about FMLA/Disability Leave.


Everyone's recuperation time if different as you can tell from reading some of the post on this site. I had three levels (5, 6 & 7) done on July 20 and started back to work PT on the 27th and FT on 8/1 at a desk job. Some employers may not allow you to come back to work until you have been released to full duty.

Hope all goes well for you.

Lettie and your friend are exceptions to the norm. I believe that most surgeons go with the six-to-eight week estimate for returning to work. And the three-to-six month range for recovery is pretty typical, too. Everyone is different - some heal faster, some tolerate pain better, some have better attitudes and outlooks.

Lettie, I cannot imagine how you did it! I'd have been a wreck if I'd had to work, desk job or not, less than two weeks after surgery.

I know there are others here who also returned to work sooner. Curious as to how those people felt about their return?

As for post-surgery tips, you'll find quite a few if you poke around this board a bit. I'd tell you to make sure you have lots of pillows and a place where you can sleep reclined or sitting up. Most people cannot tolerate laying flat right after surgery. You will also like have a very sore throat, so might want to have some soft foods on hand for the first few days. And I'd suggest buying either one of the spray-in, dry shampoo products or some of those dry shampoo caps, because washing your hair can be tricky. I rented audiobooks from the library and those were wonderful in helping me pass the time.

:wave: I am 39 and had a C5-C7 ACDF on 5/18/06. I was in the hospital for 2 nights (partly due to the fact I did not sleep at ALL the first night and partly due to the fact I wanted to have the pain control that the IV allowed, so my doctor and I agreed on a second night). Medical insurance will, generally, pre-authorize 1-2 nights in the hospital. Any more than that will require the doctor to justify an extension (which can be done depending on how the person is recovering).

I too have a desk job (insurance account manager) and I ended up off of work for 6 weeks. My surgeon requires an aspen cervical collar for 6 weeks so even though in theory perhaps I could have worked, I really truly found I would not be comfortable working (let alone driving to work).:dizzy:

I have extensive experience in disabilty claims (I used to manage disability claims operations at a few different insurance companies). What I can tell you is that most insurance companies follow a standard set of 'duration guidelines' (all based on one source, one author who gathered tons of data). For a light to sedentary job the reccomended disability duration is 4-6 weeks (if there are no complications) for an ACDF. I had to apply for Short Term Disability (STD) and my physician completed the paperwork. After speaking to him we discussed that he'd reccomend 6 weeks out of work, but if I was doing better and wanted to be released to return earlier than that he said we could discuss it. I was approved right away for the 6 week period by the insurance company. Had I needed to remain out longer the insurance company would have required detailed medical documentation, medical records, and test results to extend my STD claim.

I was SO glad I took the full 6 weeks. :D I had my work laptop at home but I could not even fathom taking that our to check work email (I'm the kind that if I would have started that - I would have found it hard not to do more work, and possibly cause more pain, etc). I barely felt comfortable on my home email and was only on the computer 10-15 minutes a day.:eek:

Right now I'm at 11 weeks post-op. I am far better than I was in the first 6 weeks but I can feel my body still recovering (sometimes I just 'feel' the need to slow down, leave work early, or curtail activity as my body works to heal). I have not worked out (curves) for the last 11 weeks and at my 12 week check-up I'll ask the doctor about when I can resume that - and what my new level of limitations will be.

My words of advice - let pain be your guide.

Also - the ONE thing I wish I had done during my recovery but I had not done: Keep up your physical endurance as much as you can. I literally only walked around my house and left the house about 4 times (once in week 2 for breakfast with my father in law, twice for doctor's visits, and once to a friend's house for a BBQ). If I could go back in time - I would have my husband take me on a walk down the block and back, and then possibly around the block as I progressed during the recovery. My first day back to work the walk from my parking spot to the front of my building was the longest I had walked in 6 weeks. I found that in the first two weeks back at work I was limited to 5-6 hours a day at the most before I had to leave (20% of the time due to pain and/or muscle spasms and 80% of the time due to mere loss of physical endurance). BUT, feel free to consider a gradual return to work if your employer will allow it. Don't overdo it the first few days back or you may find the recovery harder.

At about week 8 I was worried about my pain level and knew I could not work on pain medications (though I could take them when I got home). My doctor said that the pain was relatively normal for two reasons (1) I had the collar on for 6 weeks so I hadn't had to support my head/neck on my own (2) Since I was now fused C5-C7 my muscles had to work differently now and re-learn how to move without the previous flexibility and to function in a whole new way.

Now at week 11 I do have occasional muscle spasms (usually when I've overdone activity or not slept well) and occasionally have remnants of the pre-surgical pain but nerves do take quite a while to 'recover' from the problems that led to the surgery. I was able to get a non-narcotic prescription from the doctor so I could take it during the day - stronger than tylenol alone (since advil, aleve, aspirin and any other anti-inflamatory drugs are generally not allowed in the first 3-6 months of healing).

Okay, I've rambled on here, but I just wanted to share with you all that I've learned in the last 11 weeks. Let me know if you have any questions.:cool:

ACDF C5-C7 5/18/06
Hi -

The NS nurse said the first x-rays to check for fusion are at 6weeks, so I can certainly understand your doc's recommendation. I would fill out the paperwork for the full recommended length. Easier to go back early than it is to do the paperwork for an extension. An acquaintance of mine went back to work within the week, but it was her/her husband's business so she felt she had to. She could set her own hours at least. The other thing with her was that her NS didn't require her to use a collar at all; said her plate was enough. So different recommendations by doc and by person - I guess. (She was in such extreme agony pre-op that she felt 110% better afterwards so she was very happy to be functional again.)

I don't work outside the home, but am going back to college and had two heavy summer school classes. I came home from hosp on Tues. and went back to classes on Thrs. (My son had to drive me.) Even desk work / typing - writing, etc. can be a chore with a collar on! It (understandably) changes your body mechanics. Think about how you tip your head to write... no can do with the collar on. Well, at least I couldn't. I either had to scoot back from my desk, or move my papers forward to write.

Computer was/is a chore too. Best "work" environment for me is
-Propped up against a tall stack of pillows against my headboard
-2 pillows on my lap - that I put my laptop on (to raise it to eye level)
-Then, for my studies - I would prop a book holder (like a recipe book holder) up next to me on 3 pillows - also to raise it to eye level. I was glad to get out and get to my classes but I was miserable the entire time.

I had some other tricks for in the recliner, but just wanted to say that even the smallest things such as reading or writing can be changed while recovering from this.

--- The other thing I would suggest... I don't know what type of collar you will be getting (if you're getting one) but the NS said before you leave the hospital to ask for an extra one, so you always have one clean or dry. Nurse said I "wouldn't need" an additional soft collar, since the phili could be easily wiped dry after a shower, or worn while my soft one was drying from being washed, etc. I wanted an additional soft one anyway, - so picked one up at the drug store and it was awful compared to the one the hospital gave me.

The hospital soft was tall (more supportive) and more comfortable. The OTC one was too short so it didn't give me any support, plus it was scratchy and just nowhere near the same quality.

- Have lots of cool, soft foods waiting for you at home. Watermelon, applesause, icecream, freeze pops, etc. were all felt very soothing to my throat.

My homegoing instructions from the hospital said not to lift anything more than 5 lbs. << which isn't very much! So stock up on all your heavy groceries now and make sure you have some help for a while.

Oh, one more thing.... with the collar (especially when I was in the philadelphia) ~~~ I got lots of stares. It was embarrassing at first, but we humans are naturally curious. Some would look away, some would ask - but you know 'all' were probably curious. I realized that I felt better when people would ask me rather than stare or look away. So, I decided it was easier on everybody (if it seemed appropriate) for me to just casually mention that I had a disk removed & was wearing the collar while a bone graft fused. In the soft collar most lookers seem to assume it's whiplash, the hard collars are more indicative of something more involved, I think, ...but both get lots of looks.

Didn't intend to ramble... sorry for the long post. Good luck with your surgery.

Lilacs :angel:
Thanks for the replies!! It helps to get some advice before something as major as surgery. Also, thanks for the tips on recovery. I'll let you know how everything goes. Still have a month to get everything in order before surgery. :)
Great replies!!

I own my business so disability is not an option. I went in 13 days after surgery to do payroll and then stayed home another week. I did check messages, etc. from home. The 4th week I went back but took breaks where I layed down on a couch for a while. The 5th week I worked as above but was miserable. To take 6 weeks off probably would have been great. (I had a laminectomy instead of ACDF and did not have a collar, but I also was uncomfortable driving until 6-8 weeks).

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