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I'm scheduled to have ACDF July 31 for a C5-6 herniation. However, I have a few questions for those who have survived this crazy surgery:

1. I mainly have severe neck pain, very little numbness that I have had for yrs but has gotten excruciating over the past couple mo. (MRI a mo. ago caught the herniation). My doc says he's sure there are other things going on that need addressed, but he says that the herniation is pushing on my spinal cord enough that the surgery seems necessary at this point (I've already done meds, PT, cortisone inj, chiropractics, etc. w/o any positive results). I'm willing to do this surgery if it will alleviate the pain, but I'm scared that I will go through all of this and it not even relieve my pain! Encouragement on that issue would be nice! I"m so scared I'll just make this worse.

2. I've been reading a lot of forums on ACDF and the recovery times/methods seem to vary so widely that I'm very confused. Everything from 2 weeks to 6 months with and w/o collars, etc. I HAVE to go back to work ASAP. I might be able to live for 2 weeks out of work, but I don't have disability pay or anything of that nature so beyond that, I'm screwed. I work at a retail running store fitting shoes so I'm not going to be sitting down in front of a computer. I'm not sure if that is a good or a bad thing. Some people say sitting jobs make this easier, others say computer aggravate your neck? I know everyone is different, age and general health definitely factor in, but why is there such a drastic difference in what everyone is told regarding post-op aftercare? Either way, for the record, I'm 29, in great health (aside from my bum neck) and was an avid runner before this.

3. Which brings me to my next question: How long post-op should I expect to be able to vigorously exercise again (especially running?) Once again, I know everyone is different, but I'm just curious what is the big difference here between these magic cases I read about of people jumping right back into driving and working only 2 weeks later and others who seem to be struggling 4 months later?

I'm terrified of this surgery and I"m usually pretty fearless (I've been in the military, sky dived, played roller derby for 4 yrs and am currently a nursing student) but this surgery and the prospective post-op recovery just has me in total freak-out mode. Anyone who could offer support, advice and such would be awesome.

To save everyone time, I've already gotten a pretty good idea of things to expect pain wise initially, what items to have on hand for post-op recovery etc. It's just that grey area 2 weeks to 4 months that has me spooked. I'll totally lose everything and my place to live if I'm out of work that long. I'll also fail out of my nursing program if I am unable to perform my duties as a nursing student at clinicals (I start back school only 4 weeks post-op). My doc said I should be back in time, but reading everyone else's experiences has painted a completely different possible outcome. Thanx in advance for your help!

Hi Mel-

I see you have 25 views and no replies yet and I am virtually in the same shoes as you (no pun intended). This has me dealing with the pain (mainly referred to my shoulder) and delaying surgery. When I get this surgery I plan on taking a week off from work (I work from home) and then ease back into things. From what I have read on this board and others is that recovery and can be stressful the first week but if you can handle it most appear to be in active recovery and living pretty well 2 weeks out from surgery from simple ACDF C5-6. My doctors say one night in the hospital and then home no collar necessary. Also from what I read the main problem is the soreness in the throat and that has me spooked. I mostly leave voicemails for a living and I NEED my voice. My doctor says there is a 5% chance that my voice will be permanently damaged hence no surgery and much pain but I need an end game. I have even been considering a posterior approach for this very reason as it does not involve the throat.

As well your situation selling and setting people up in running shoes sounds like it could be stressful with all the bending and moving in awkward positions etc. That too would have me very concerned if I were you and needed to be at work in two weeks. I would think it would be possible but it would definitely have me concerned. Maybe someone who had this procedure could chime in here give us her or his thoughts on recovery and real expectations for getting back to work.

Either way all the best and hopefully things work out for you. Please post back your results as I am probably going to delay this until the end of the year for business purposes and would like to hear your outcome.

Hi Mel,
i am Martin from the Netherlands. I underwernt ACDF 6 weeks ago in Germany. I am a 56 years old press photographer ([COLOR="Blue"]* website link removed by hb-mod, moderator * [/COLOR])I have a very busy job. The same experience as you concerning recovery period 2 weeks till 6 months, some with collar some without collar. that creates more questions as giving answers what to do. I am a very healthy living guy doing or did a lot of sport, no drinking, no smoking. Still on my age I find that healing takes longer as a person gets older. I exspected to be betteras I am now. I had an one level ACDF with artificial bone for fusion. I get tired soon, sometimes a bit nausea and so also a low energy level. I sleep well but waking up my neck feels stiff every morning. I get PT 2 times a week for my neck and shoulder muscles. Car driving is also still very exausting (getting me very tired) You are 27 years younger, so that is an advantage.
My pain in my neck and arm is gone, but the aftermath of the operation is not gone. I hope to be better in a 6 to 8 more weeks. It would have been less frustrating if the MD had told that recovery varies from 2 weeks till 6 months. Now you are worrying and wondering when you will be better.
I have a wonderfull wife that keeps me positive. A daughter that helps me making the pictures I cannot take at the moment. You need to take a lot of rest after the surgery. Sleep, read some books or do other things. But you can be sure that working out in a gym or running will take some more time as a few months. [COLOR="Blue"]* email address and/or contact information removed by hb-mod, moderator * [/COLOR]

hope to hear from you. Wondering what kind of cervical damage you have!


[COLOR="Blue"]* name removed by hb-mod, moderator * [/COLOR]

the Netherlands
For a single level ACDF the recovery can often be quicker than that of a 2 or 3 level ACDF. I had a two level and was out of work on Short Term Disability through my employer for 6 weeks. Much of it was that I had to wear a hard collar (Aspen Collar) and was unable to do my desk job due to the collar, residual pain (surgical pain as the other pain was gone upon waking from the surgery) and inability to type with the collar on (I never realized how much I looked down while typing).

Had I been a little more active post-op with some walking I might have been able to return to work a week or two earlier. But my surgeon recommends a minimum of 4 weeks and then re-evaluates from there.

What kind of options do you have through work (sick time, disability leave, FMLA, etc0?
Hi Mel,

I had a single level (c4-5) ACDF w/ Donor Bone in Sept of 2007. I had some mild spinal cord compression. I still have some issues, but the recovery from surgery was not much of problem.

1. Both my neurologist and neurosurgeon said the primary goal of surgery is to prevent future damage. If you have a herniation pushing on the spinal cord that is what you want to get rid of. Hopefully it will relieve the pain
but you may need to do more to address that with meds or exercise, etc. The big thing, in my mind, was getting the pressure off of the spinal cord so it doesn't cause any more damage.

2. I went in for surgery early in the morning and was on my way home in the mid-afternoon (I could have stayed overnight, but I had my wife with me and I live only 3 blocks from an ER). I generally felt fine, although I was scared by some swallowing problems during the first week. I was given a soft collar but not required to wear it. They said it was for comfort. I wore the collar on and off. I felt more secure with it on, but sometimes it was a bother and I took it off without any negative consequences. I took 3 weeks off of work and that was plenty of time for me and it was fully covered by my sick leave and short term disability so I had no real incentive to go back earlier. I think I could have if I wanted to. I have a desk job (computers) so it wasn't strenuous but I don't recall having many issues. I didn't drive for awhile (maybe a month) but that was primarily because I felt nervous being in a car without my soft collar on in case of a sudden stop, etc. I didn't want to drive with the collar on because of the movement limitations. I also could take public transportation to work and had a wife at home, so I didn't need to drive.

3. You could probably do vigorous low-impact exercise (bike, stair climber,elliptical) within a month or so but I wouldn't rush into running. I used do some recreational running, but I still don't feel comfortable running, 2 years post-op. Part of that is that I've gotten more out of shape and I still have neck issues going on. Personally I'm walking on an inclined tread mill and this manages to get my heart pumping enough. I think it really depends on how you feel post-op, and you probably aren't going to know before hand, although you could get your doctors opinion.

Try to relax about the surgery. In the vast majority of cases, you are going to be better or about the same in the weeks after surgery. I would say to not get your hopes up on super quick relief of your current symptoms, but everyone is different. It can take years for nerves to recover. Just take it one day at a time. Talk with your friends and co-workers/boss. Perhaps you can work two 4 hour shift instead of 1 eight hour shift, for example. I would think your nursing program would be sympathetic and accommodating. Get some support during your first week of recovery. The thing I remember most during that first week was having a minor panic attack thinking I would drown in my own saliva because I couldn't swallow properly. Having my wife tell me I was being silly helped quite a bit and being able to call the neurologists PA provided more comfort.

BTW, I was 48 at the time of surgery, overweight, but in reasonable physical shape.

Best of luck.

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