Anterior Cervical Decompression and Fusion (ACDF) Recovery | Norton Healthcare Louisville, Ky.

Anterior Cervical Decompression and Fusion (ACDF) Recovery

What to Expect

You’ve had anterior cervical decompression and fusion (ACDF) surgery, a first step toward the goals of decreasing neck and/or arm pain, and stopping symptoms of spinal cord compression from getting worse. Now it’s time to focus on healing. By following these tips, you will set yourself up for a successful outcome after surgery.

Top 4 Things to Know

  1. Pain in the back of the neck and between the shoulder blades is common after ACDF surgery. It also is normal to have some swallowing difficulty. These usually get better over the next few weeks. If you have trouble breathing, call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately.
  2. Do not use nicotine for at least three months. Nicotine will slow down your healing.
  3. Avoid taking anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) for six to 12 weeks or until your surgeon tells you it’s safe to use them. NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), meloxicam (Mobic), Celebrex and diclofenac.
  4. In some cases you do not need a collar after surgery. If your surgeon gave you one, you should wear it as directed until your first follow-up appointment. Avoid excessive bending and twisting of your neck after surgery. Your surgeon will decide when your collar can come off.

Breathing

If you have any trouble breathing or have excessive swelling in your neck, call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately.

Pain and Weakness

  • Neck pain, pain between the shoulder blades and a funny feeling when you swallow are normal after ACDF. These should get better over the next few weeks.
  • Numbness, tingling and weakness that you had before surgery may take time to improve.

Your Collar

  • If you were given a collar to wear, the goal of it is to keep your chin up and away from your chest. Your chin needs to be on top of the collar, not down in the collar.
  • Wear your collar until your first follow-up appointment after surgery. You may take the collar off to shower.
  • While the collar is off, keep your head as still as possible and your chin up.

Taking Care of Your Incision

  • You can take your dressing off when you get home from the hospital.
  • Underneath the dressing, you will have adhesive wound closures (Steri-strips) over your incision when you come home from the hospital. These will fall off on their own within 14 days. If they have not fallen off after 14 days, you can remove them.
  • If your incision has no drainage, it can be left uncovered after three days.

Showering

  • You can take a shower three days after surgery. Take your collar off while in the shower.
  • Avoid taking tub baths, swimming and going in hot tubs until the incision is completely healed (four to six weeks).

Taking Medication

  • Do not take anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) for at least three months after surgery. These drugs can interfere with how you heal. NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), meloxicam (Mobic), Celebrex and diclofenac.
  • If you need refills on your prescriptions, you may make a request through your MyNortonChart account or contact our office at least two days before you are out of pills so we have sufficient time to process your request. Refill requests on Friday afternoons and holidays likely will be addressed on the next business day.
  • Start weaning yourself from pain medications as soon as you are able. Remember, pain is a natural part of the healing process. The goal is not to eliminate all pain but to keep you comfortable as you heal. Pain medications should be used only for a short period of time.
  • Before taking Tylenol (acetaminophen), be aware that your pain medication probably has acetaminophen in it. Taking additional Tylenol or acetaminophen can put you over the daily recommended 3,000 milligrams, which can harm your liver.
  • If you are taking a muscle relaxer, one of the side effects is drowsiness. If you feel too drowsy to safely get up and move around, take the muscle relaxer less often.

Do Not Use Tobacco Products

  • If you had been a smoker or used tobacco, you were required to stop before surgery. You’ve come this far, so why not quit for good. If you cannot do so, you must not use tobacco products for at least three months. Nicotine will keep you from properly healing.

Be Active, but No Lifting

  • We want you to be active as soon as you get home from the hospital. Get up and walk often.
  • If you go up and down stairs, make sure you hold onto the railing and have someone with you.
  • Avoid bending and twisting your neck as much as you can, and do not lift anything over 10 pounds until your surgeon says it’s OK.

And No Driving

  • You cannot drive until you are no longer taking narcotic pain medications or muscle relaxers and you can move well enough to be safe behind the wheel.
  • Most patients can begin driving after the first postoperative appointment. Your surgeon will let you know when you can start driving.

Eating

  • Ice and Popsicles can help relieve a sore throat.
  • Eat soft foods that are easy to swallow. Take small bites and chew your food well. You can begin eating other foods gradually as you start to feel better.

Constipation and Bloating

  • Constipation is a common side effect of taking narcotic pain medication and a good reason to begin tapering yourself off of pain medication as soon as you can.
  • Drink lots of fluids, be active and eat foods high in fiber to help relieve constipation.
  • If constipation is bothering you, a stool softener or laxative may help. Try one of the following, and always follow the instructions: Milk of Magnesia, MiraLAX, Dulcolax suppository, Fleet enema, magnesium citrate.

When Is It an Emergency?

If you have any of the following symptoms, call 911 or go to an emergency room right away:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Excessive neck swelling
  • Significant new weakness since your surgery

If you have any other concerns, call our office at (502) 584-7525. In most cases we can help you or get you an appointment quickly.

Making It Easy to Get Back to Your Life

  • With six Norton Leatherman Spine locations in Louisville and Southern Indiana, we have specialists near you.
  • We use minimally invasive procedures that can reduce recovery time and the risk of complications.
  • Sophisticated pain management aims to keep you comfortable and safe.
  • Communicate with your provider, manage appointments, refill prescriptions and more anytime from a computer or mobile device with a free MyNortonChart account.

About Norton Leatherman Spine

Norton Leatherman Spine in Louisville and Southern Indiana offers world-class care from surgeons who are recognized nationally and internationally for their innovation, expertise and skill. Norton Leatherman Spine is one of the premier research and education programs in the United States for spinal surgeons.

Our rich history traces back to Kenton D. Leatherman, M.D., who more than 50 years ago became the first orthopedic surgeon in Kentucky to specialize in spine care. A University of Louisville School of Medicine graduate, he developed leading-edge approaches to treating scoliosis after World War II.

  • The board-certified and fellowship-trained specialists at Norton Leatherman Spine are among the most experienced in the country, treating conditions like yours for an average of 20 years.
  • We have orthopedic spine surgeons providing care from our offices in downtown and suburban Louisville and in surrounding counties.
  • Our physicians pinpoint your diagnosis to come up with the right treatment plan, including surgical and nonsurgical options as appropriate.
  • We offer minimally invasive and robotic-assisted procedures that carry less risk and can speed your recovery. Norton Leatherman Spine surgeons are actively involved in the development of next-generation minimally invasive technologies.
  • The physicians at Norton Leatherman Spine are leaders in their field and train the next generation of specialists. More than 100 of the leading spine surgeons practicing throughout the U.S. today were trained at Norton Leatherman Spine.
  • Techniques developed at Norton Leatherman Spine have produced better outcomes for patients, with fewer side effects, and are routinely performed around the world today.
  • Our team performs more than 4,000 surgeries a year, and patients come to our providers more than 30,000 times a year.
Leatherman – 7525

Minimally invasive spine surgery ends years of pain for woman

As the golf cart rounded the tee box of the first hole, Terri Tackett’s excitement began to build. She stepped out of the cart and reached into her golf bag for her driver. The weight […]

Read Full Story

Successful spine surgery gets D. Wayne Lukas back in the saddle

On the track at Churchill Downs is where Hall of Fame horse trainer D. Wayne Lukas spends most of his time. You’ll find him there seven days a week. The word vacation is foreign to […]

Read Full Story

Telehealth and ‘virtual hospital’ allow some spine surgery patients to go home sooner

A combination of telehealth and remote monitoring is allowing some patients to go home sooner after significant spinal surgery, according to the medical director of Norton Leatherman Spine. Norton Telehealth and ‘virtual hospital’ innovations accelerated […]

Read Full Story

Norton Leatherman Spine surgeon pioneers minimally invasive lumbar fusion

Jeffrey L. Gum, M.D., spine surgeon with Norton Leatherman Spine, has pioneered a new, minimally invasive, robotic-assisted surgery that shortens operations and cuts down on recovery time. His work has attracted attention around the world. […]

Read Full Story

Trouble getting around? Don’t confuse cervical myelopathy symptoms with aging

74-year-old Rodger First started having trouble getting around, he assumed it was just a part of getting older. For months, he struggled on uneven surfaces. “I remember falling three or four times one day,” Rodger […]

Read Full Story
Related Stories

Minimally invasive spine surgery ends years of pain for woman

As the golf cart rounded the tee box of the first hole, Terri Tackett’s excitement began to build. She stepped out of the cart and reached into her golf bag for her driver. The weight […]

Read Full Story

Successful spine surgery gets D. Wayne Lukas back in the saddle

On the track at Churchill Downs is where Hall of Fame horse trainer D. Wayne Lukas spends most of his time. You’ll find him there seven days a week. The word vacation is foreign to […]

Read Full Story

Telehealth and ‘virtual hospital’ allow some spine surgery patients to go home sooner

A combination of telehealth and remote monitoring is allowing some patients to go home sooner after significant spinal surgery, according to the medical director of Norton Leatherman Spine. Norton Telehealth and ‘virtual hospital’ innovations accelerated […]

Read Full Story

Norton Leatherman Spine surgeon pioneers minimally invasive lumbar fusion

Jeffrey L. Gum, M.D., spine surgeon with Norton Leatherman Spine, has pioneered a new, minimally invasive, robotic-assisted surgery that shortens operations and cuts down on recovery time. His work has attracted attention around the world. […]

Read Full Story

Trouble getting around? Don’t confuse cervical myelopathy symptoms with aging

74-year-old Rodger First started having trouble getting around, he assumed it was just a part of getting older. For months, he struggled on uneven surfaces. “I remember falling three or four times one day,” Rodger […]

Read Full Story

Search our entire site.

Schedule an Appointment

Select an appointment date and time from available spots listed below.