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3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

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Old 05-09-2005, 06:54 AM   #1
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3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

I am new to the board, I just had my second surgery.
I now have C4,5,and 6 fusion. I am two week post op and still have numbness and weakness in both arms and hands.

I don't do well with surgery, my body does not accept meds very well.

Maybe I just panic too quickly.
My sleeping has been very poor, painful and interuped. I can't get comfortable. I take the pain meds and become depressed.

I hear so many people are nearly pain free soon after surgery.
I had C 4 and 5 done last April 2004, the pain was still there and after MRI with Contrast and EMG it was determined it was the disk herniated at C 6-7.

So they removed the plate and screws at C4,5,6 and did C 6/7. I had a second opinion and was told I needed the surgery.

I read people going back to regular lives after a 2 level ( job wise) I was a Paramedic I have been told I will never do that again.

My questions are:

On the average, how long is the healing process for a 46 yr old woman with this 3 level ACDF?

What limitation have other had, ie..driving, lifting, range of motion?

When should I start PT and how long?

When should I start an exercise program again? (I was doing 60 min cardio and light weights and stretching before this last surgery).

At what point do you say enough and live with what you got?

I had the pain but I felt much better before this last surgery. I won't have the steroid shots, they tried that and hit another nerve, which acts up at diferent times.

I have asked the doc, but I would like to know from people whos been here.


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Old 05-09-2005, 09:18 AM   #2
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Re: 3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

Welcome to the club. I had a 3 level C4/5/6/7 a few years ago. I was out of work for 2 months before I started feeling better. The pain is going to be there a while for you.

Because of the way I was positioned during surgery and the fact that they pumped steriods in to me via my left arm, it was almost totally useless when I woke up. I could not even close my hand. I used therapy putty to get my strength back, and over a few months, the arm got better.

Two weeks isn't long enough to panic yet. I would wait until at least your one-month follow-up with your surgeon.

I started PT at 2 months out, doing light thera-band work and walking. Your cervical does affect your walking so walk as much as you can every day. My PT restriction was 'no weights above head.'

It wasn't until I was about 2 years post op before my arms felt strong enough to do work above my head. If you want a good test, get on the floor flat on your stomach and try to get up using your arms. That will give you an idea of how strong they are in comparison to pre-surgery.

Again, give your recovery a few more weeks. Don't skimp on the pain meds. If you can get some therapy putty to work your hands or some hand grips, they will help your muscles.

And as a parting bit of info, when you go to PT, take a pain med dose about an hour before you start, it will be working during your therapy session to help you out.


Old 05-09-2005, 11:31 AM   #3
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Re: 3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

There is a club?

Thanks, the arms are very weak now, sometimes I don't feel like I can lift my head.

I was injuried June 10th 2003, my patience has long been gone.
It hurts to raise my elbows at all.

I can't find a comfortable position to sleep, any ideas with that?
I know I am sooo tired. I feel the depression rushing down on me again.

Are you able to drive a car? and were you ever told how much the maximun that you could lift?

Old 05-09-2005, 02:17 PM   #4
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Re: 3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

There is a club! We just need to teach you the secret handshake. You just hold out your hand, and it shakes.

I was told initially for the first few weeks not to pick up anything heavier that a 2-liter bottle of soda. I think later, it moves up to 15 pounds or so, but I've never tested my limit.

For sleeping, you might want to look into buying a cervical pillow. It's been 3 years since my ACDF, and I just now can sleep on a "normal" bed pillow. The cervie pillow was very comfortable until a few weeks ago.

I was driving at 3 weeks, but still a bit nervous. I took back roads any where I needed to go, to keep out of the majority of the traffic, and I limited trips to PT and the grocery store.

One thing my doctor did do for me was get me handicapped placard for my rearview mirror. That way, I didn't have to lug groceries so far to the car.


Old 05-09-2005, 03:10 PM   #5
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Re: 3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

Hi Blma,I only had the one fusion c6-7,but also have problems w/c5-6,Ihave been having alot more pain issues,only on the left side not right this time,starts in the base of the thumb, palm of hand,and shoulder where it settles in ,not near(knock on wood) as bad as c6-7,seems it has more w/ me bracing my shoulders, I drive school bus and all my roads are torn up right now ,so I think I prepare for that by bracing, and boy I pay for it,I take ambien to sleep,w/o it no way would sleep come,I do not sleep on the left side anymore,(bad side) cuz it makes the pain worse, and I read somewhere, that its not good , cuz the shoulder rounds out and the nerves can shrink,adding to the pain,so I am really trying to stay on my back,there are certain arm positions that help, (if the pain is not out of control)so slowly check out differant positions, hopefully you find one that helps,I read that hand up elbow out, like a wave, sometimes help , It did help bring down pain levels when c6-7 was out for me,relaxing the damn shoulders is a big help, but ya really have to think about it all the time.I use bayer mucle and joint cream,no good for nerve pain, but for bound up shoulders it really works well, it has 30% Methyl salicylate, which is highest on the market,that I found,I am now a bit concerned about the shots you got, cuz I am having that done this Wensday,I pray they dont work up more stuff,they are starting w/my lower back.I hope I was of some help,and oh, welcome to the club,I'm still looking for the refreshment table,haha Diana

Old 05-09-2005, 06:14 PM   #6
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Ramsfan HB User
Re: 3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

I have had 3 surgeries in a 10 year period. I'm fused from C2 thru C7, basically a walkling broomstick. My lifestyle has changed. In time the pain subsides. However if I don't pace myself or lift to much I will pay for it for several days. Every morning I wake up with pains that gradually go away after an hour or 2. This is probably because I have always been a stomach sleeper and can't break the habit. I have found that a pillow filled with micro-beads is the most comfortable. I'm sure this varies from person to person. I've learned to deal with it though. I keep telling myself trhat a lot of people are worse off than I am.


Old 05-09-2005, 06:39 PM   #7
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Re: 3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

Well I checked into getting a different pillow.
I am so tired and the sleeping pills aren't working that well anymore. I know this will pass, I have to keep telling myself that.
I was a Paramedic, I know that is OUT now. I wonder what I will do when this gets better.

I Scuba too. I went last year in the Keys (Key Divers) they handle all your gear from the car and back. Had to put BC on and take off in the water and we limited the depth and lenght of the dive to avoid nitrogen bubbles in the injured area. The two dives I did.....I had NO PAIN for the 55 min in each dive.
Doc said that the boyancy lifted the compression off the nerves while diving, that is when he was convinced that therapy would not work only another surgery.
I can't imagine having 2 thru 7 done.

The pain meds don't touch the pain. (maybe that is because their for muscular pain, not nerve pain).
I am just in pain and very tired.
Hows your ability diving with all that? I appreciate the advice, or maybe just someone else that understands.
Last year after the 2 level, the doc just kept saying "well everything look good", meanwhile I am telling him "Nothing has changed!" It is still the same!!!
Then basicially acused me of seeking drugs. Then the other MRI and EMG and there it was C6-7 sticking out like a sore thumb.

It is hard telling someone your in pain or can't lift or move something, they don't see a big gapping wound anywhere.
Well now there is this huge scar from head to the bottom of my neck.

Well since I can't be a Paramedic anymore does this disable me?

Last edited by blmax214; 05-10-2005 at 11:56 AM.

Old 05-10-2005, 10:40 AM   #8
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Re: 3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

blmax -

I still think you need time to heal and do PT as the PT sees fit. It is going to take some time for things to begin to feel normal again.

As for disability, you would need to discuss that with your doctor, but unless you have some permanent limiting disability, it might be hard to classify you under Social Security. They would probably say to "take a desk job or teach."

I would wait a few weeks on discussing it with the doctor until you have a sense of improvement or not.


Old 05-10-2005, 12:14 PM   #9
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Re: 3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

I got the PILLOW!!
I hope this helps, deep down I know time is needed and rest.

I was told I will never be able to lift more than 20 lbs ever, so that rules out being a Paramedic. I was hurt at work, doing the firefighter training they wanted us to do.
They would not let me do desk work or light duty.

(Story short) they tried to say it did not happen, problem was there were 8 witnesses, an Asst Fire Chief that had to send a injury report to the State fire Academy and since I had to sign it I asked and got a copy of it. My Employer would not let me go to the doctor for a week, it was a dirty little mess. They lied to workmen comp and when I produce a copy of that report to prove the lied, I think workmens comp had something to say to them.

I want to work, but I also want to be able to make a living.
Not being able to lift over 20 lbs limits job positions. I was also going to school for radiology technician, most medical positions are out now, because you are required to lift.

I will retrain in something I am sure. My daughter believes things happen for reasons and that this may have saved my life. I had been in several dangerous situations.
I started walking the block a couple time a day.
I just don't respond well to drugs/surgery/hospitals/and pain.

But it sure is nice to know there are people that understand.
I can see there are others that have had to endure more than I so I need to count my blessing.
The lack of sleep makes me a complete basket case. I am going to try that new pillow.

Has anyone had problems driving?

Last edited by blmax214; 05-10-2005 at 12:15 PM.

Old 05-11-2005, 07:14 AM   #10
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dootag HB User
Re: 3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

Hi Gang,
I'm pretty new to this forum but not new to the problems you discuss. I'm fused from C5-7 with the 6/7 broken.

Comments about sleeping - 25 years ago when I had this done the Doc told me I could never use a pillow again except to sleep on my back. He said I could use one now and then in other positions for short periods. He said that using a pillow caused additional stress and strain on the unfused joints above and below the fusion. He cautioned me to take it easy. I did and aside from complications from the broken joint I sleep fine but only on my right side or my back. I use a small pillow to support my body.

LAcat mentioned SCUBA. After 34 years of AS and DISH underwater is the one place on this earth where I am pain free.

Regarding the activity I can only speak for myself. I was in a hard collar for four months after the second surgery. Then a soft collar for another four, primarily to sleep. I hated the hard collar but in retrospect feel it helped prevent me from aggravating my neck until it had time to heal. If you ever see a video of the ACDF surgery you will be struck by the realization that it is sort of advanced sterilized woodshop. None to gentle either. Hurting is easier to understand after you see what you body just went through.

Driving -- don't. It's not a question of "can you do it." It's a matter of your legal liability should you have an accident with restricted neck rotation etc. A fender bender during the first few months without hard collar support could tear everything apart in a millisecond.

Nerve Pain - when the disc at C6/7 collapsed an osteophyte in the vert. vent pithed my right ulnar nerve. I could and did put out a cigarette on my right arm to illustrate to the the Doc the extent of the numbness. (Pretty stupid) When 5/6 collapsed there were other Radial nerve problems. I found out that those nerves heal at the rate of half an inch per month. No telling how many little injuries you may have accumulated in your nerves while you built up to where you had the surgeries. I guess what I'm trying to say is be patient. Your doctor can give you meds specifically to handle nerve pain. The usual stuff doesn't have much effect.

Hope this gives you some ideas. If nothing else, remember, you're not alone. There are a lot of us out here.


Old 05-11-2005, 02:53 PM   #11
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Re: 3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

I think having some ideas on what we "CAN DO" might be very helpful. I will post a new thread and see how many ideas we can get.
I am a little depressed about what I can't do anymore, so it would be nice to list or get new ideas.

I don't want to do anything that will futher my injury, I want this to be the last surgery. I woory about the domino effect.

Your right about taking time, I have never been out of work for longer than a month before and that was while I was raising children, (the youngest is now 22).

I got the pillow and it woked pretty well, still woke up from pain, but not as often.
It basicailly supports the neck area, it is one of those "miracle Visco-elastic "memory" open-celled foam.

I tried backing my car. Looking to the right is not to bad, but turning left....nope. not yet. I put it back in the garage. I don't feel it is safe enough yet for anyone.

Your right about the meds not working, it don't touch the nerve pain, you just don't care as much.

I would love to dispatch or teach EMS, but after workman's comp found out the employer lied to them and I provided the proof that busted them for insuring for one type of position but having the employee doing a different position. I am not exactly their favorite person.

Old 05-11-2005, 04:41 PM   #12
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Re: 3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

After reading responses and knowing a couple people who have had 1 level done, there seems to be such a vast difference.
Some wear collars (I did not... at all)
My doc says "don't worry, you can't tear it apart".
Then the nurses said, don't bend/lean forward, don't lift anything over 8 lbs. don't drive and so on.
It all seems to be the same surgery so why all the differences?

Medical people I know are shocked, and wonder if their doctors were just over cautious.
Until it was pointed out about sterilized woodshop.....your right no wonder I hurt so much.

Old 05-13-2005, 06:12 AM   #13
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Re: 3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

Well, now three weeks post surgery, sleep has gotten a little better, the new $$$$ pillow may be working. I am ealking and keeping busy and that all helps. I am wondering what the range of motion is going to be, I have been working the waist in turning.

I do have some sharp pain in the back of the neck, the head aches have subsided.

Have problem using the phone, hold hand up to hold the handset to the ear.
I also see that using the computer for the last twenty min, my arems and shoulders hurt. We will see if that improves as for now it hurts so I am gone for now.

Old 05-13-2005, 07:16 AM   #14
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Re: 3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?


It may take a long while for the tightness in the back of the neck and shoulder blades to subside. At about 6 weeks post-ACDF, my physiatrist suggested therapeutic massage for me. I went once a week for 2 months and have spread it out to once a month since then. It relieves a lot of tension in my shoulders and the muscles that did crazy things before I had the surgery to accomodate a day-to-day life with a broken body.


Old 02-26-2007, 10:49 AM   #15
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Shellsells HB User
Re: 3 Level ACDF experiences? when to say enough?

I am new to this site. But relieved to find a site where others are going
through what I am.
I am a 38 yr. old woman with a level c6-7 fusion and now 16 months
later have been told I need another surgery. C5-6 is bad and c4-5
is slightly bad. 1st surgeon was in Nebraska I had a lot of confidence
in him thought he did a wonderful job at the time....but now wondering
why I"m going through all of this again.
There was some question in the beginning as to whether it was one
or two bad discs and we only fused one. Wish we had done both
back then. I am now thinking that if I choose to let this new 2nd
doctor in Mo(currently living) fuse all 3 together. Take out what's
been done and do all 3 so that in a year we're not going in and doing
the one that is slightly herniated now.
Dr.'s nurse from Nebraska said fusing 3 is a bad idea because I
would be walking around like frankenstein?
I am so lost and afraid of having this 3 level done.
I have been suffering for months. I've gone to the e.r. many times
for pain management. I just weaned myself off of the pain meds
and have been dealing with the pain trying to live with it.
I get very depressed thinking this is no way to live. Doped up on meds
or in pain without them.
My husband of 16 yrs. has no sympathy what so ever and is tired
of hearing me whine....he's so concerned about making ends meet
and resents me for the time I have taken work which hasn't been
near as often as I"ve felt I needed to take off due to pain.
I have worked many days through pain that made me want to run
my car off the road and end it.
Please tell me after a 3 level fusion will it get better?
I'm scheduled for April 3rd surgery and my new surgeon is my age
and he's asian...I hope that means he's good? Not sure what to
think of him---he seems like a perfectionist maybe from what the
nurses have said when I asked questions about his qualifications.


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