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ACDF surgery and recovery/under age 30?

Silver T.SSilver T. Posts: 13
edited 10/23/2014 - 8:59 PM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
I am 25 years old and have had issues with neck/shoulder pain and numbness in various areas of my body for over 9 one could figure out why until an MRI done a few years ago showed cervical spinal stenosis and disk degeneration from levels C3-7. I have been to 4 neurosurgeons and all have recommended ACDF done on at least three levels. i was also told that i was born with an abnormal curvature to my neck and a narrowed cervical spine and was at high risk of developing this issue.

I have read up on on this type of surgery and it scares me. i read that once anyone has done this type of procedure they are more likely to have to need it done again because other levels start to deteriorate. other issues that i have read that come up are non-unions (disks not fusing correctly) though the surgeons expect that i should not have an issue with this as i am a nonsmoker and have no other bone issues.

I have tried Physical therapy and have gone to a chiropractor and have had blocks and injections but nothing seems to really help with the pain. All surgeons that i spoke to believe that this is really the only option and that the longer i wait the worse my symptoms become and will be permanent.

I don't know if there is anyone out there who is close to my age and has gone through this surgery and can shed some light on what to expect? i know it makes a big difference on which levels are fused but i wanted to know about any mobility issues and post-recovery pain. I would appreciate any information anyone is willing to give!!!



  • LizLiz Posts: 9,697


    Veritas-Health Forum Moderator

    Spinal stenosis since 1995
    Lumber decompression surgery S1 L5-L3[1996]
    Cervical stenosis, so far avoided surgery
  • I am in the same position and am going to follow you. Surgery is scheduled for 11/3. Thanks!
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  • Silver-

    I had my my ACDF for C4/5/6/7 at age 38. I have to admit that I was not in good physical shape at the time. I also had a few complications that required me to remain in the ICU for about a week. However, after the surgery, I started to work on my physical conditioning.

    I'm encouraged that you are exhausting other methods before deciding on surgery. I might suggest you consider deep tissue massage, as well as being checked to see if any of the issues with your hands might be carpal tunnel related. Also, a second opinion by another NS would be good.

    Make sure you read the "what you need" sections to find out about pre-surgery and post-surgery "to-do" items. I remember only eating soft foods like scrambled eggs and putting kid's Go-gurt in the freezer overnight. It was tasty..

    I think because you are only 25, you might do a lot better in recovery. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Make sure you have someone to stay with you for a couple of weeks in case you need help. If your doctors choose to let you go to a rehab place to get PT and OT, take their advice.

    I hope everything works out for you. Good luck in your treatment.

  • yogarunski:
    good luck with surgery! please let me know how you are doing and how your recovery is
  • Thank you for the reply! im sorry to hear about your complications, i hope that you are doing well now! i have gotten a 3 other surgical opinions and all of them agree that surgery is the best option.I have gotten massages and they do help temporarily. According to the surgeons my nerve issues are related to disk compression but i will look into carpal tunnel. Do you mind if i ask what your range of motion is like now after your recovery?
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  • I will update when I can. Still nervous but moving forward.
  • It's such a tough decision but 3 surgeons probably know best. I don't want to have this done either but I'm not sure I have a choice. Please keep us updated.
  • Right now, I have about a 140 degree, left to right. When I turn my my head either way, the outside part of my eye lines up with my shoulder line (hem) on my shirt. After you first have surgery, Absolutely do not pick up anything heavier than a 20 oz bottle of soda. I remember when I was allowed to drive again. I really did the Michael Keaton Batman, by turning at the waist, not the neck. I was given a temporary handicapped placard, and remember going to the grocery store. Here I was, a 40 year old man, when seen by the check out girls at the store probably aged 16, insisting they carry my bags out for me. A humbling experience.

    Don't be afraid to accept help. And you might need a cane as your body adjusts to your surgery. Mine changed my walking gait for a while. The cane gave me stability.

    Good luck!!
  • hannahmaroothhannahmaroot Posts: 4
    edited 11/02/2014 - 5:35 PM
    Hi Silver!

    I'm 23 and am about 2.5 months post-op from a two level ACDF. It sounds like you're having a 3+ level ACDF done with different risks than mine, but I can tell you about my experience! There aren't too many people on this forum who are in this age bracket, and I tried finding someone before I had my surgery, but to no avail.

    I had "bad genes" and a minor car accident about a year ago. I was diagnosed with whiplash for six months until the increasing, unpredictable and debilitating pain got so awful that I switched orthopedic specialists and found out I had two herniated discs and a decent potential for further degradation of the other discs. At least I had a reason for the awful pain! He shied away from recommending surgery but did acknowledge that the injections wouldn't help me much and that I had exhausted all other conservative treatments. I saw another surgeon for a second opinion, and he said that a two level ACDF would likely help, so I went for it.
    My recovery was amazing. My surgeon had me wear my soft neck brace in the car ride home, but then let me be brace-free, and I think that was probably due to my age. The incision site hurt, and I had to use my hand to pull my head off of the couch for a few days, but it wasn't long before I could stoop to pick things up, or tilt my head back in the shower (after five days of no showering). Two weeks after the surgery, a friend caught me referring to my recovery in the past tense. At three weeks, I decided to take a long train ride to visit a friend from college (I had to make sure my backpack was under ten pounds, but that limit was lifted after 3 weeks for me). I started working full-time at one month... I've had to be very aware of my posture to not upset my neck, but I think about my neck so much less than I used to. I'm just starting to incorporate physical activity into my life, and I'm still recovering from the surgery in terms of my muscles adjusting (they get stiff in the mornings, but it's getting better).
    I hear ALL THE TIME that I was too young for this surgery, but I truly could not be putting off living my life to instead be drugged on my parents couch all the time so that I wouldn't be self-harming. I am so so so glad I had this surgery, and I do recognize that everyone's path is different. Both surgeons told me that there's a "30% chance" of needing further surgery in about ten years, but If I can feel as good as I do now until then, it will be so worth it.
  • hannahmaroothhannahmaroot Posts: 4
    edited 11/02/2014 - 5:41 PM
    I apologize for how much I wrote earlier, but I realized I didn't say anything about post-recovery pain. By the end of 3 weeks, I could turn my head to 80% of my pre-accident abilities without any pain. It was (and still kind of is) painful to quickly bring my head back from a really twisted position, so I just turn my head a bit slower. Still better than the full-body twist! I stopped taking any pain meds beyond Tylenol after the first week or so. The first day was pretty painful, and I kind of wish I had stayed overnight in the hospital (I live 2+ hours from the hospital), but I was able to swallow pills without much difficulty even right after the surgery. Swallowing was painful for about 4 days, and awkward for about 2-3 weeks: I would swallow a bunch of air and burp a lot. It was also quite painful to get in and out of bed for about 3 weeks. It got better with time, but sitting up from lying down was super painful, especially if the pain meds had worn off.
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