It’s been three weeks since I had an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) surgery on vertebrae C5-C7. I outlined the procedure in an earlier post. Immediately upon coming out of surgery I could feel a positive difference in arm and shoulder pain – the site of most of the symptoms from herniated discs and bone spurs which pressed on my spinal cord and nerve roots which extend into the shoulders and arms. There have been times since surgery when I’ve experienced some finger tingling, arm pain, and shoulder spasms but that is to be expected as the surgery site recovers and the overall trend has been positive.
During ACDF surgery the neck vertebrae are expanded back to their normal distance apart after the herniated disc collapses. The disc replacement, in my case a plastic cage seeded with my own bone tissue, returns the space back to normal. I could tell things were stretched out as the muscles in my neck were tight and painful immediately following surgery. This subsided after a week or so and I can feel that these muscles are loosened up. Maybe I grew taller in the process!
It looks like I got into a knife fight and lost (see picture) – but you should see the other guy (well, he got paid a lot of money). It’s pretty amazing that they can perform such a dramatic surgery through so small an incision. The surgeons rely on microscopes for parts of the procedure. There were no external stitches or staples in an effort to minimize the scar. It is in a rather conspicuous place. But like with similar incisions from other surgeries, I suspect that the scar will diminish over time.
Physical activities remain restricted. You are instructed not to lift anything over 5-10 pounds. This is the hardest restriction to follow as I find myself wanting to engage in regular activities around the house. I have to constantly catch myself and ask for help. Walking is highly recommended from the beginning and I’ve been doing about 1 mile each day. Since no longer taking narcotic pain meds, and getting some movement back in the neck, I did drive a short distance to the grocery store this week. Long drives are probably out for some time until more muscle strength is regained.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms flared after the surgery with increased joint pain and stiffness. Fatigue also increased but that could be from the recovery process. Flaring is to be expected given the stress put on my body from the anesthesia and surgery. Taking NSAIDs or steroids to help is not possible as they negatively impact the bone fusion process.
A follow-up appointment with the surgeon is in three weeks at which time they will take an x-ray to make sure the hardware remains in place and to check on the status of the bone fusion. It will be interesting to see the titanium hardware! The vertebrae can take 3-12 months to fully fuse.
At this early point, I am glad that I had the surgery. But time will tell if symptoms will continue to improve.