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Physical Therapy after ACDF Surgery

mkirvenmmkirven Posts: 20
edited 09/18/2014 - 4:30 AM in Recovering from Surgery
It's 6 weeks post op ACDF Surgery, C3-C6 and I had my first session with the Physical Therapist. The same physical therapist that I used trying to prevent surgery and the first person to tell me after 10 sessions that the PT wasn't working. I trust this therapist with best advice and best practices. I thought I was doing just honkey-dorey until I got into PT yesterday. The NS had told me to do range of motion exercises and decided to go to PT to find out exactly what I needed to do. I was experiencing an extremely tight neck, arm weakness and shoulder and upper back muscles tightness as well as vocal strain. This first session was very informative and the PT who has great experience post op with this surgery answered a lot of questions that I had without access to the NS.

Swallowing issues! I thought I was swallowing fine because I had no pain getting food down my throat. Didn't realize that getting food over that "post-surgery hump" in my throat was considered a swallowing issue. And the voice box issue still has to be remedied with voice rest and time. I drink a lot so I was advised to use straws instead of drinking directly from a cup where the neck goes back.

The PT told me NOT to use the collar anymore, not even the soft collar I was using at night to sleep. The collar has served it's purpose and i need to start using/strengthening those neck muscles. The neck pillows ARE NOT the best thing to use for ACDF recovery either, don't use either of the neck pillows I bought. I didn't think I had sleep disturbance issues but I do wake up at night trying to find the right comfortable position for my neck (so that's considered sleep disturbance). The PT told me to roll up a towel and put it behind my neck (not a huge bath towel but one that was comfortable). Did that last night and slept most of the night unless I somehow turned off of the "towel" roll. Readjusted the towel roll and went right back to sleep.

Lifting! Picking up too much weight!! Try to squat rather than stoop over. I thought when I leaned over I could feel the hardware. That's not the case but my weak neck/shoulder muscles trying to balance my 14 pound head. So squat down to pick things up and if you're like me and that hurts your knee to squat use the biofreeze on the knee. LOL!

The PT observed that my neck was very stiff and I needed to come to PT regularly for a few weeks to get my neck working properly and the tight shoulder trap muscles working and the front pec muscles loosened so those muscles can once again do their jobs. I have no upper arm strength so we needed to work on that. The surgery worked great but little did I know that the strength of the muscles does not automatically resume just because the pain is gone. Also, the way in which I used my neck muscles during all those years of having the herniating discs must be "relearned". My neck muscles overcompensated for everything (thus spasms) because the trap/pec muscles were not working and I had no arm muscle strength. Again, I trust my PT's knowledge. I was advised that if I don't get my muscles strengthened and stop using my neck muscles for what my shoulder/arm muscles should be used for I would have these ongoing front neck spasms. Also, the use of the wrong neck muscles being used to support what my trap/pecs should be doing, would cause me to have thoracic spine problems. So, I'll be going twice weekly for a few weeks and working hard at home in between sessions on my spine health.

After surgery, I was fearful of moving my neck improperly during exercises on my own and didn't actually know what I needed to be working on myself. I'm glad that I went back to PT. Initially, in this round of PT, I am strengthening the front pecs and the back trap muscles, elevating the arms and rotating my neck easier. Twenty minutes on the treadmill twice a day at a rate of 2.0 and 2% incline to increase the heart rate. This is a start to neck recovery.

Has anyone else had success with "regenerating" their stiff neck and associated muscles post ACDF surgery?


  • This post was helpful. I haven't started PT yet but am anxious to. I still have some arm weakness and want to build up strength again. Too soon to start that (three weeks post ACDF) but I am walking between 2 and 3.5 miles a day. Muht have to scale back because I'm hurting at night and yesterday (after long walk, grocery shopping and cleaning kitchen) I was hurting. Need to take it a little easier I think but ut's hard because I feel well.
    C5/6 herniation, type 2 diabetes, generalized anxiety disorder
  • Thanks to mkirven. I am awaiting for my physical therapy in two more weeks. I will have my elevator out of service for 4.5 weeks starting Jan 12. 2015. Any suggestions on training for 4 flights of stairs .
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  • I had neck surgery for the second time four months ago. I live in the UK. I had an excellent surgeon and was told the operation went well. But I was given no advice from any physiotherapists as to what exercises for rehabilitation I should be doing. Am wondering if I should see a P.T. privately?
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