Eleven Weeks Since ACDF Surgery
It’s now exactly 11 weeks and 3 days post-surgery. Time has flown by, especially the last 3 weeks.
During the week 7 post-op visit with my surgeon, he said my x-rays look absolutely perfect. Here they are, in all their glory:
I must admit that, during the week or two prior to the consult, I was in a bit of a panic, worried that my not wearing the hard collar in the house or that I got frustrated and mowed the lawn once (the grass had grown to be hideously tall). But that concern was all for naught.
So that was great news. I asked about fusion, to which he said it would be “at least 6 months” before any fusion would be visible.” I look forward to my next visit with him on December 20th. I am hoping, but not expecting, that fusion will be visible. More importantly, I am hoping that nothing goes wrong between now and then, and the new x-rays taken for that visit show no changes in the hardware.
The titanium plate and screws are there to lock everything into place and keep it there. So I shouldn’t be too concerned and, truthfully, am very confident. BUT…during that visit I had a list of questions, most of which pertained to returning to activity. Golf, jogging, pickleball, yoga, lifting weights, etc. etc. etc. To my utter shock, he reviewed the list and gave me the go-ahead to do just about all of those activities immediately. The only two caveats:
- Swimming – he had some reservations about the constant “overhead” nature of the arms in conjunction with the rotation of the head. He asked how much I swim and in what conditions. I told him I basically am just asking if I can get in a pool or go to the beach and get in the water to cool off, to which he said no problem.
- Weightlifting – he said to start off at 50% of my pre-surgery weight and see how I respond and go from there.
I was in shock. He left the room and a nurse came in shortly after and then started dispensing a very different set of instructions:
- Collar can be removed but ease into it – take it off during meals only over the next week, then part-time the following
I explained that the doctor just told me I could ditch the collar and return to activity immediately. She said something along the lines of, “He doesn’t know! I’m the one you’ll be emailing if something goes wrong as I deal with the patients daily.” I got it – she’s uber-conservative because she doesn’t want the risk or hassle. He’s pretty non-chalant, knowing the hardware shouldn’t move. With that, I decided right then that I was going to bet on the hardware and the surgeon’s directions. Of course, I didn’t tell the nurse, I just nodded, all the while thinking about getting out of there and getting on with seeing how my neck would feel without a collar on.
With that, we were done and she reminded me to put the collar back on as we were leaving. I waited until I left the building and then quickly removed it for good. That was almost 4 weeks ago. I don’t recall, but I might have put it back on for the car ride home, but that was it.
Since then, I have resumed most activity that I want to do without issue. My neck was *very* stiff the first week post-collar. I was starting to worry but it loosened up slightly each day after the first week. I continued walking daily, but also added in cardio (elliptical machine) and then started lifting weights again (machines, not free weights). For the first 2 weeks I struggled with chest presses, as my right tricep was still noticeably weaker than my left. But it’s getting there and not nearly as weak as it was.
As for mobility….that is concerning. The worry was that I would lose ~30% of neck mobility due to the plate/fusion. I’d say that’s probably about right as of today, it may be even slightly worse. But I am confident that will improve over time because I don’t feel a physical restriction due to the hardware. It seems to be caused by very tight muscles in the back of my neck. I start physical therapy in a few days and am hoping that accelerates increased mobility.
A few days after getting that clearance I made the mistake of going to the golf course. The first few holes I knew it was a mistake. While I probably would be okay now, at that point it was just too soon. Not just strength wise but cardio. I played a 12 hole course that is relatively short but is named “Rolling Turf” for a reason – it’s a workout just walking that thing. I’m now using a push cart – my days of slinging my bag over my shoulder are over – but it didn’t help as I was just out of cardio shape at that point, so pushing that cart up and down hills was tough. I made it through but it wasn’t as enjoyable as I’d hoped, so I’ll lay off golf until next year.
This past week I took a chance and jumped on the pickleball court. It’s been good. Again, cardio was an issue the first few times, but it is getting there. I’m playing with/against the “beginner” level, which ranges from a handful of decent players to many who don’t even understand the rules and are wholly non-competitive. So it’s fun, but frustrating at times as I want to push myself.
That’s it for this post. Again – check out my YouTube channel as I did record a video after the visit with the surgeon. I’ll post here and record another video in a couple of weeks from now. I start back to work next week. Looking forward to it.
Looking back, these past eleven weeks since the surgery, and the months prior in pain and all of the fear and uncertainty, it’s been quite a year. I have been saying to myself since day 3 post-surgery that I could have gone back to work then. But I’m glad I was able to take this time off to truly recover. I was in a bad mental state. The lead-up to the surgery took its toll. I was burned out both with my work and with my personal life. My relationships with others suffered and I have some work to do in that regard for sure. One of the great things about the past few weeks, post-collar, is I was able to rekindle some relationships. I have more to go. I am so much more positive since the surgery. I didn’t realize it but I was in fact in physical decline for at least the past five years or so due to the cord compression and pain due to the pinched nerve. It wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t go about my life, but I was pretty negative and not very nice to be around a lot. I realize now that I was so focused on fitness because working out was my way of getting through the pain. The adrenaline that working out provided was my self-medication.