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Posted in: Spinal stenosis, and Surgery.

Awaiting cervical spinal fusion

Started by jang on 07/20/2011 6:20pm

Hi all,

I have been diagnosed with cervical spinal stenosis and scheduled for surgery for an anterior c3/4 fusion on August 1. I'm down to less than 2 weeks to go.

I was just wondering if anyone who had this surgery had suggestions on stuff that I should be doing ahead of time, in terms of setting up for recovery at home.

Thanks in advance,
-Jan (jang)

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Your ? was just what I came on here looking for. I am scheduled for surgery on August 9th I'm having a ACDF (Anterior cervical discetomy with spinal fusion) have looked and looked and I havent really found anything. You would think that our Surgen's officie would have some type of format. I think it would be very helpful for those of us that are getting ready to have surgery so we are not trying to guess., I mean really the last thing I want to do after surgery is try and fig. out what I should be doing or things to do that would make day to day life a little less stressful.Good luck and if I find anythin that is usefull I will sent it your way.


My fusion is Aug 22. They told me I would not be able to lift anything over 8 lbs, so I would suggest putting things in smaller pkgs. They also said no bending, everything needs to be at waist heigth, so rearrange your bathroom and kitchen so that you can reach everything easily with out stretching to far. They also have an apparatice I can purchase that will with dressing (it is like a pincher to help hold socks, pants, etc.). I've had a broken wrist before, so I realize some of the difficulties. Have shoes ready that are easily slipped on. Loose fitting tops and pants for the first month or two.
That is about all I can suggest. Good luck.Gayla

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Hi, I've had this surgery before, only it was a little more extensive -- anterior fusion of C4-C5-C6. According to what I've read on forums, each doctor has a different approach and post-surgery instructions, etc. For example, you might be given a bone graft from your own body or that from a cadaver, and you might be told to wear a hard cervical collar or a soft collar for a certain number of days or weeks following surgery (I know of one person who was for some reason not instructed to wear any cervical collar).

So all I can give you is advice based on my own experience, and since the surgery was in 2006, I cannot remember the exact details. I had no complications from this particular surgery, which was instantly helpful, but it took me many months to fully realize the benefits because I had experienced severe nerve and spinal cord compression prior to surgery.

For my cervical fusion surgery, I was only hospitalized overnight and then discharged. Thankfully, I had excellent pain control immediately following the surgery, though in the long run it is far less painful than the lumbar fusion I had done in 2009. I think I was instructed to wear a soft collar for 3 weeks, perhaps longer, and to refrain from driving a car for at least two weeks. I was also forbidden to lift more than 5 pounds for the first few weeks. I was gradually allowed to lift a little more weight, after a few weeks.

So you need to be prepared for such things. You need somebody to drive you around for awhile. Taking a bus for transportation might not be a good idea because it's painful, at first, to ride in a vehicle that starts and stops a lot.

You also need somebody to help you with grocery shopping and anything else that requires lifting. For the next several weeks or months, tell the grocers to keep the weight low on each bag of groceries; i.e., don't place two 2-liter sodas in one bag, or a lot of canned goods all in one bag. Prior to surgery, arrange your house so that important items are within easy reach. Buy or store heavier items in smaller, lighter weight containers (For example -- coffee, milk, sugar, etc.) If possible, arrange for somebody to help with your heavier types of housework for a while, such as vacuuming.

Sometimes neck surgery can damage your throat (temporarily, hopefully), so you might want to stock up on soft foods and canned soups before surgery. I felt OK to cook a bit afterward, but you probably want to get some ready-made foods and other handy items, just in case. If you do cook, avoid using heavy cookware such as iron skillets. Don't expect to be able to cook a big roast, whole chicken, or turkey for a while because they're too heavy to lift in and out of the oven.

I was told to do a lot of walking after surgery, which speeds the healing process, so you might want to pick out a safe place to walk and perhaps arrange for a friend to walk with you during recovery. If you have a dog that you normally walk, arrange for somebody to help unless it's a very well behaved dog that won't yank on the leash.

I've found it helpful to use lots of appliances that make household chores easier to do -- for instance, I've made sure to have an electric can opener, electric food chopper, electric knife, etc. I have a very light-weight vacuum cleaner, mop, and broom, as well. I also have a portable cart that helps me to transport items that are too heavy to carry.

I had a couple of follow-up doctor appointments shortly after the surgery, and later there were weeks between follow-up visits, which were made only to assure that the fusion was taking place. My pain pills were gradually reduced and then stopped about 3 to 4 months after surgery, perhaps a bit longer (earlier than I would have liked). By then I was put on physical therapy for a while, to aid healing.

If you're working and planning on returning to work, it would probably be at least three months before you're ready to work, depending on the job, but I really don't know because my spine problems had forced me onto Disability by the time of my surgery.

Hope some of this helps. Please note -- if preparing for lumbar (not cervical) fusion, there are a lot more preparations to make because it's a much harder recovery, but I won't list them here.


Thanks, Rockfish, for taking the time to share your experience. Already I'm on track for a lot of your surggestions, though today I'm going to start looking at things I do and relocate items to avoid reaching. I already hired a summer intern to do my driving, laundry, etc while I'm recovering. Soon after I knew I was heading toward surgery, I gave up water aerobics because of the flashes of extreme pain, and started walking in the woods near our house. I'll definitely need to adjust the route to avoid tree roots, but I can always take a road route at first.

Steph and Gayla, thanks for posting. At first I was thinking that this surgery would be as bad as recovering from a broken leg ORIF (plate and 3 screws). The NP working with the neurosurgeon has been reassuring me that it is not that bad, but I'm still suspicious. I'm fairly claustrophobic, so the prospect of wearing a collar, even a soft collar, for a month is daunting.

One suggestion I got from the nurses is button down shirts so I don't have to put my hands above my head.

This weekend was the time to give up Alleve. It's hard to do because it definitely was taking the edge of my skin hurting. It's also really hard to remember to dose up - Alleve is so convenient being twice a day. Surprisingly they want me to give up my vitamins too.

I was surprised to see that I am allowed black coffee, apple juice and cranberry juice up to 2 hours before surgery. No cream or milk or creamer in the coffee - it affects the thickness of mucus or something like that.

I had a pre-op exam about a week ago and they went through the restrictions and had some patient hand-outs for me.


I had to have an emergency herniated disc removed in 1997. Mine was very extensive as I had an HMO and the Dr.'s kept misdiagnosing me, which led to my C6/C7 emergency surgery. Because of the misdiagnosing I turned into a paraplegic. After I collapsed about 6 hours later due to the misdiagnosis, a disc had starting to sever my spinal chord. After the 5 hour surgery, they removed the disc, and then I had to retrain myself how to walk all over again. So I accomplished that, thank GOD! Then in 2002, they had to go back in a fuse my cervical from C5-C7. The first Doctor should have fused my neck but decided not too. They put a tight collar brace on me after my surgery, but about 2 weeks later took it off. To this day, I am okay, I am a very optimistic person. My C4 now shows some moderate stenosis and I have bad neuropathy in my legs and finger tips. BUT the good news is, at least I can walk!! I have been through it all, every single test, The main thing is to make sure you have at least 3 opinions from various Neurosurgeons, I can't stress that enough!! Good Luck to all of you!!


My daughter is having surgery on the 29th of this month. Someone recommended to me a "bath board" which will help getting in and out of the bath and a higher seat / handicap seat for the toilet to make it less uncomfortable and will also help support getting up. Also try to avoid sitting in any chair without arms for a while....


After surgery is over, it is a big help to get a special seat/chair that sits in the shower. I would get one of these in advance. I wish someone would have told me to get one of these before my first surgery. I found it very difficult to shower and not get my surgical collar or neck wet. The Doctors advised me not to get my neck wet where my incision was, so I put kitchen garbage bags around my neck brace so the water would not allow my collar around my neck to get wet. I understand that they now even have ones now that have back and arm rests on them, for easier access to get up after the shower is completed. Hope this helps...


I'm back from my surgery. Everything went well. The surgeon said that he reduced a lot of the pressure on my spinal cord - cleaned out a lot. I was up and about within a few hours of surgery and went home the next morning. I'm in a little pain, but it is mostly from back spasms and back of the neck pain, attributed to how I was positioned in the OR and how the body reacts to gaining a little height in the spine. I have percosets for pain and valium for spasms, but I'm only supposed to take the valium before bed.

Things are going well. I got a half-shower today - not allowed a real shower until 2 days post-op. I have a shower bench and a hand held shower which are good. For the real shower, they gave me a hard plastic collar that is waterproof. I will be able to get the dressings wet, but will change them right after the shower.

From the other side of the surgery, the worry and waiting was the worst part of the process so far.



I am so happy to hear the surgery went well!! It sounds like you will be just fine. My advice is, don't expect too much from yourself. We often can be our own worst enemies! Give your body the time it needs to heal. Being an optimist person is the key! Just take it one day at a time!!! My thoughts and prayers are with you!!

Here is to your healing!!



Notes from 12 days after surgery:

I guess the most drastic thing that happened in my recovery so far was that I started getting both nausea and appetite problems from taking percoset. At first I was noticing that I wouldn't be able to finish a meal if it was "time" for another dose. Then I noticed that I was also having periods of nausea, which also seems to be linked to timing with the percs. On that day I decided to quit taking pain meds. That was exactly one week after surgery. It was a very good decision and I'm feeling mostly normal again.

As for pain, I had pain in the back of my neck, probably from positioning in surgery for only a few days after surgery. I had pain associated with muscle spasms in my back. The nurses at the hospitals said that this was probably from the neck/back muscles adjusting to the extra length (yay - I'm supposedly a little taller!) in my neck. The back spasms went on longer, past the pain in my neck. I was given valium for sleeping which helped a lot.

Pain at the surgical site has not been much at all. I've been more bothered by the glue in the tape than any kind of pain. I do feel a little stiff, so I am taking tylenol, although I might be just getting a placebo effect at this point. (Neurosurgeon said no NSAIDs for two months after surgery because it might interfere with bone growth.)

I also had a sore throat and was coughing up a bunch. Apparently this is a common side effect of being intubated, and a couple days of mucinex and albuterol helped that out. The pain is gone now and my lungs feel clear. My voice is still not what it was - the lower range is there, but I still haven't got my upper range back. I'm not a professional singer, but I do sing in a choir.

At this point I'm still having trouble sleeping. The combination of percs and valium had me sleeping soundly through the night for the first week, but valium alone does not seem to work alone. I'm still working this out. I found some ambien last night and got a peaceful night at last. The trouble comes from finding a position that isn't too uncomfortable while wearing a soft collar.

My first post op appointment is tomorrow, but I will just be seeing one of the nurses.

So what would I have liked to know ahead of time.....

Having mucinex on hand afterward was really handy; it's much harder to have albuterol on hand unless you already take it for some other reason.

I think I spent a lot of time rearranging things in my medicine cabinet ahead of time that I didn't necessarily need to - as long as things were not above my head, I haven't had trouble reaching them. Although rearranging did take care of a lot of nervous energy.

Progressive bifocals with a neck collar are a pain, especially if you are trying to read - the subtle neck movement that you need to use the lower part of the lens is very awkward. I should have taken reading glasses to the hospital instead. I'm still reverting to reading glasses when I'm laying down with a book and am finding with the bifocals that finding the sweet spot for a particular focus stresses me a little. I probably should find the regular pair of glasses I used before the bifocals.

Having someone you know in the recovery room "feeding" you swabs of ice water is great. The nurses were okay, but they had a lot of patients to deal with, so having someone that was just paying attention to you was very nice.

I've had someone around to drive me and go grocery shopping for me. There is no way around that. You need to have a driver available. My family had gone to scout camp for week 2, so I hired someone to be around.

I've had a lot of chicken soup, jello and popsicles in the last two weeks. Good to stock up on. Chicken meals seem the easiest to eat with a delicate stomach. I'm still working on a chicken casserole I made the day I got off the pain meds and it's good comfort food. My husband is now providing me with great food at this point.

More feedback as I think of it.....Good luck to everyone starting this journey!


I am also having multilevel fusion next tuesday ( c5,6,7) I am 36 years old and keep getting told this is a big deal for my age.. But i am SO sick of the pain i will do anything. Iam looking to hear from anybody thats had this surgery, good or bad i would like to know the outcome. Wasnt to worried but as the day gets closer the more nervous i get. ANY advice, experience, would be greatly appreciated.


Hi Darin,

The wait for the surgery was really nerve-racking. I know I wanted to be done with it and on the road to recovery but the clock seemed to run really slowly. Short term recovery wasn't too bad. My surgical wound really didn't hurt at all. There is a lot of pain from muscle spasms and readjustment in the neck and back in the first week. All the muscles need to readjust to the extra height caused by the graft. They usually try to put a little more height in when they do the surgery. You will probably get a script for valium for the spasms as well as pain meds. (If you already know which pain meds work best for you, let your doctor know. Alleve and ibuprofen are not allowed.)

After a week I gave up pain meds and valium. I've noticed a little improvement in sensation, but still have numbness and ultra-sensitivity in my right hand, Nerves take a long time to repair/regrow (1 mm per day is sometimes thrown around as a figure) so the jury is still out on whether this is a full success story.

The doctor did say that if I was in pain before the surgery, I would have noticed immediately that the pain is gone or significantly reduced. I was not really in much pain before the surgery, just afraid of losing dexterity and fine motor control of my hands. So if you are in pain now, that might be something to look forward to.

Good luck. I hope you have good news to share soon. Hang in there!