It has been five months since my ACDF surgery and I’m happy to report that all is well. I have been off of the pain medication for several weeks and am back to running without restrictions on a daily basis. My pain level is actually a little better than before surgery and other than being out of shape from lack of exercise, I feel fine and normal again.
I had actually braced myself for some withdrawal from the Lortab. I thought certainly daily doses for 4 months would cause at least some dependence but to my pleasant surprise, I had no withdrawal symptoms at all. I don’t mean to frighten anyone by talking about dependence. It is perfectly normal even if you follow the dosage and scheduling prescribed by your doctor to the letter. Abuse is a whole other issue. Either way, if you think you have some addiction to the medication, talk to your doctor. He/she is there to help and there are ways he/she can help you get off the opioids while minimizing the withdrawal symptoms.
As I have mentioned before on this blog, I was an avid runner (5-6 miles per day) before my surgery on December 13, 2010. The first few times I tried to run post-surgery was about 3 months out. I could only make it about a half mile and even that left me achy and sore for a couple of days. I backed off the running and stuck to daily long, brisk walks with my dog. This helped to rebuild some muscles in my legs and gave me time to build my energy level back up.
I started running again about 4 months out (4 weeks ago). The first time out I ran 3/4 of a mile and it was tough. Every couple of days I tried again and gradually increased my distance. I went very slowly – as if I had a choice. I have worked up to running 2-3 miles 5 days a week. I am still very slow but am getting stronger every day. It feels really good to be running again.
I have been working flexibility and strength training into my daily routine as well. I have always pushed my body playing contact sports and lifting heavy weights. My normal weight is about 220-230 lbs but over the past few months I have realized that at 41 years old, I need to be a little gentler with my body. First of all, I need to be about 20-30 pounds lighter to decrease gravity’s pull on my joints and spine. I also realized that I need to take a much more balanced approach to fitness including core strength and increased flexibility.
I have spoken to a few folks who have recently had ACDF surgery who are discouraged by their level of pain, fatigue and other limitations. Every person’s recovery is different. I am just a fellow ACDF recipient and I have no idea if my recovery is typical or not. The only advice I can give you is don’t lose heart and communicate with your doctor.
My own recovery, as far as the pain went, was not too bad. Other than the problems with my neck, I was in very good physical condition on the day of my surgery. If you are preparing for ACDF surgery, I strongly recommend being as fit as you possibly can be for your surgery. PLEASE talk to your doctor first to find out what limitations you have but the more fit you are, the better surgery and recovery will go.
Even though I was in good physical condition, my recovery was very emotionally and mentally taxing. The first few weeks were not too bad but this is serious surgery and it is very draining to your body. Your recovery will take several months. It will, at times, seem to go on forever with no end in sight. The first three months were the hardest. It was difficult for me to cope with the physical limitations and the restrictions imposed by my doctor. I also experienced some depression as a result. Talking to family, friends, your doctor or even a counselor helps tremendously. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak or crazy. Major surgery is a big deal and there are emotional as well as physical demands.
Now, five months after surgery, I feel great and I’m glad I had the surgery. The strength has returned to my right hand and arm and all of my pre-surgery symptoms have improved or disappeared. I know that going forward I will need to be more careful. Full fusion takes 9-12 months so my recovery is not complete. I still am not able to return to my boot camp or any other extreme workouts or rock climbing. So, 5 months down and 7 to go.
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