Six Weeks Since ACDF Surgery
So it’s been about six weeks since my four level anterior discectomy with fusion (ACDF) surgery. Recovery has gone really well. Honestly, it’s gone unbelievably well. In my last post, I said I woke up from surgery in no pain aside from some very achy shoulders and upper back. I just assumed that, within hours, the anesthesia and/or any pain meds they gave me during the surgery would wear off and I would be in a lot of pain. I was fully expecting to be on narcotics for the first few days, if not weeks. But the pain never came. Over the next few days the aching shoulders and upper back subsided, and even in the incision remained painless to me.
It took about 8 days for the swelling in my neck to go down. By the morning of day 10 the swallowing issues were pretty much gone. I am still, even now, six weeks later, in shock that the recovery was so smooth and painless.
I did notice that I would get tired, not sleepy tired but more of a slight fatigue, enough to want to just sit down, pretty quickly. But the next day after getting home from the hospital I was up and walking around the house a lot and doing chores.
My goal as soon as I got home was to MOVE. Move, move, move. Nothing crazy, but sitting around all day was to be avoided. Don’t get me wrong – the majority of the last six weeks has consisted of me on my computer, or watching television. It’s been a slog. But just about every day I have gone on at least one long walk. The first week after surgery I walked around the neighborhood, which wasn’t easy as I live in a suburban township that has a lot of traffic and a lot of streets that do not have sidewalks. Eventually, I paid for a monthly membership at our local Community Center, because it has an indoor track. It’s about 1.3 miles from my house, so my daily routine consists of one long walk:
- 1.3 miles to the community center
- Between 2 and 3 miles on the indoor track
- 1.3 miles home
So about 5 miles total. Some days I will do up to 7 miles. I am convinced that walking has helped my recovery greatly, particularly by loosening up the shoulders and limbs.
I’ve tried to keep myself busy at home too, but it’s been difficult. I just haven’t been all that motivated to do anything productive. While at the hospital, prior to discharge, I was instructed to wear a hard collar whenever standing or moving. When sitting and sleeping, I could wear a soft collar. I was provided a “Philadelphia” collar for showering.
In reality, after the first week or two, I just wear the soft collar when in the house regardless of whether I’m up or just sitting. When I leave the house I absolutely always wore the hard collar. It’ll be great to not have to wear it when walking, which I hope the surgeon will allow when I meet with him next week. The Philadelphia collar was horrible – I found it was very uncomfortable and pressed too hard on my neck. It wasn’t painful, it was just awkward and I honestly don’t think was sized correctly for me. After the 2nd week, when I noticed my neck felt pretty strong, I stopped using it. I haven’t worn a collar when showering since.
My neck feels pretty strong now and has for the last few weeks. It never felt “weak” really, but I notice a difference each week since surgery. But I can tell for sure that, once I am told I can ditch the collar, that I will have some aches and there will be a transition period before I am fully comfortable without the collar. Physical therapy, which I assume will be prescribed, should help with that but just exercising and moving without the support of a collar should be enough on its own to whip my neck back into shape (no pun intended!).
Facebook and Social Media
In the weeks leading up to surgery I joined the Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion Facebook group, which I highly recommend anyone going through this surgery join. But, and this is important to understand, the vast majority of discussions in that group are negative. I spotted this right away and basically turned off notifications for it until the week before my surgery, and I made sure to not even read anything negative. My main goal was to find out what I could do to make things go smoother and less painful. The vast majority of ACDF surgeries go well, people recover nicely, and they move on with their lives. If you base your perspective on what is posted to that Facebook group, you’ll expect the worst…no, you’ll expect, as I did, that at the very least you will be writhing in pain, require narcotics and muscle relaxant medications just to get through the first month if not months. Sadly, some of the advice given in that group is really bad too. The “take it easy!!!” mantra is one. Along with the insistence on telling people to drink milkshakes and eat ice cream all day, when asked what to do to ease the swelling and/or sore throat post surgery. I know it’s a bit judgmental and maybe creepy but before I consider anyone’s advice on that group I look at their profile pic. Sadly, many look like they’ve been dealing with “issues” outside of ACDF related. I won’t go any further other than to say, overall, it’s a great group to get some support and, more importantly, some useful tips for recovery. But there is a lot of sad stories going on in there for sure, and a lot of the advice given is to be avoided.
I have been vlogging my recovery on YouTube, and if you’re interested in much more detail and more timely updates on my progress, I suggest checking me out there.
X-rays of my cervical spine are scheduled for Monday. Then, my much-anticipated follow-up appointment with my surgeon is the next morning on Tuesday. I can’t wait : ) My expectations are that I will be told that my x-rays look great, the hardware is set and that I am well on my way to fusing, and I no longer need to wear a collar. While I will be asking all kinds of questions, including when can I expect to get back to practicing yoga and lifting weights, I am expecting a “Take it easy until after PT answer.” Fingers crossed.