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  • One year + post 2-level ACDF

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    Old 05-11-2007, 10:30 PM   #1
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    Wink One year + post 2-level ACDF

    Following in Ember's footsteps, I wanted to post an update on where I am a year later. I didn't have an injury - just suddenly, pain in my left shoulderblade and upper left arm, and a permanent "twinge" in my neck. Strength-testing revealed something I'd never noticed - my left tricep had about a quarter of the strength of my right. The MRI showed two ruptured cervical disks - C5-6 and 6-7. The extent of my strength-loss was such that they scheduled my surgery for a week later.

    Two weeks, four weeks, eight weeks after my surgery, I was pretty much in hell. Incredibly depressed, incredibly paranoid, convinced my life would never return to normal. Nine weeks after surgery I started physical therapy, and while I only continued it for about two months, it turned everything around for me.

    Steadily over the past year I've gotten better and better. I went from having an occasional good day amid weeks of bad days to about half and half, to about a quarter bad, to the bad days being the exception rather than the rule. Now I have a pretty regular feeling of "stiff neck" but nothing more than many people get after working at a computer all day.

    Immediately after surgery I had horrible muscle spasms, which faded after I did my time in PT. About a month ago, I was surprised by a lot of unexpected pain on the wrong side - the side that was never affected - and like most people who've been through this, I was convinced that I had damaged another disk and was going to need more surgery. Weirdly, I eventually managed to pinpoint why it felt so familiar: it felt like my neck felt immediately AFTER surgery. It was a muscle spasm.

    I did see my surgeon again, and he took X-rays - static and flexed. He says I have a "pretty good" fusion - about a millimeter of movement when I flex, more than he likes, but not enough to call it a failed fusion. And probably not the source of the pain. He prescribed vicodin, which I took for about three days; the spasm faded, and at this point I'm back to normal. For a week or so, though... I don't know. I was in the same headspace as those first awful months. It taught me that it's as important to fight your own fears and negative emotions as it is to fight the pain.

    These days, I do pretty much what I want. I ride my bike (when I haven't sprained my ankle, like this week, ugh!), I walk, I use an elliptical machine for exercise cuz my knees are not great. I work full-time (and about half that again, most weeks!) I slouch in my chair like I always have, which I probably shouldn't, and I don't do my PT exercises, which I totally should. I'd say about 95% of the time I feel fine, and about 5% of the time I'm in an annoying, but certainly not unbearable, amount of pain. I use a hand massager for those times when I stiffen up, and it usually helps a lot.

    The only bad thing is that it's sometimes hard to find a comfortable position to sleep in, and I worry that sleeping on my side isn't good for my neck in the long-term. But my OS says not to worry about it, that sleeping on my side is fine, so I try not to give it a lot of thought.

    It's been a difficult, stressful, weird road back to normal. I wouldn't do it again for any amount of money. But I wanted to say that for some of us, you DO get back to normal, or a very reasonable facsimile.

    Best advice I can give you, if you're post ACDF and in pain and scared:

    1) Go to physical therapy. It's good. Isotonic exercises were best for me, the ones where I'd press my head against my hand, but not let my neck move - static strengthening, I think they called it. Muscle strength is your friend. It helps the spasms.

    2) Don't be alone. As much as possible, lean on your friends. It's hard to be paranoid and depressed when you're around people you love, who love you.

    3) Don't be a hero. Take your pain meds, and ask for more if you need them. A year later if I tell my OS I'm in pain, he prescribes vicodin for me. It doesn't happen often, and you have to go easy on it, but pain makes you afraid, which makes you tense, which makes you hurt more.

    4) Fight the blues. It's hard not to worry about repeat surgeries, about why your hand is suddenly tingling like that, about why you're still hurting when ten people posted on Healthboards today saying they were exactly as far out from surgery as you and feel GREAT. People heal at different rates. It's not a contest. Don't compare.

    5) Don't freak out. As much as possible, don't freak out.

    6) Do your exercises. Don't be like me! I'd probably be in less pain if I did mine more than twice a week. Your physical therapist can teach you stuff you can do at home that's good for you.

    Anyway, good luck to everyone, and feel free to ask me questions if you have any.

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