This is a big month for Will and I. Not only are we celebrating our first year of marriage, but I'm also undergoing "ACDF" surgery next Monday. The actual name of the surgery is Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion, but I can honestly never remember that so I'll stick with the acronym. Over the past weeks, I've had a friends and family ask my about the surgery, why I'm getting it done and what's going to happen afterwards so I thought it would be easiest to write a blog post on the topic. This is also a way for me to document the "trials and tribulations" that have come as a result of having degenerative disc disease as well as a way to talk about my excitement for overcoming years of setbacks and pain!
What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease is when discs (for me in my neck) naturally wear out overtime resulting in bone spurs and inflamed joints. The "injured" discs start to slowly dry out and shrink, causing them to lose their flexibility and cushioning. Also bear in mind that "DDD" is not an actual disease!
How did you get it?There is no way to tell when or if someone is going to get degenerative disc disease. There are however several factors that can lead to DDD which include: hereditary/genes, age, injuries, and drying of the disc area. One thing I learned over the past few years is that unlike other tissues in the body, there is little blood supply that goes to the discs, so once a disc is injured, it can not repair itself so the disc starts to deteriorate. For me, DDD happens to be hereditary and a past injury caused it to show up sooner rather then later.
How has it impacted your life?
The impact DDD has on you is different for every individual. For me, this condition has effected certain nerve functions and has caused pain in my neck almost daily. One days when it's been really bad, I've lost feeling in my right hand, experienced tingling and numbing sensations throughout my neck and arm area and had the inability to sit for extended periods of time (car rides were the worst) or even do simple workouts like yoga. Every day is different but the pain is almost always the same.
How is ACDF surgery performed?
First, the surgeon reaches the damaged disc from the front (anterior) of the spine through the throat area. They do this by making an incision on the front of the throat and move the neck muscles, trachea, and esophagus, to the side so that the disc and bony vertebrae are exposed. Gross I know!
After the disc is located, it's then removed and the space between the bony vertebrae is now empty. To prevent the vertebrae from collapsing and rubbing together, a bone graft is put in to fill the open disc space. The bone graft serves as a bridge between the two vertebrae to create a spinal fusion. The bone graft and vertebrae are fixed in place with metal plates and screws. After surgery, my body should begin its natural healing process and new bone cells should grow around the graft. After 3 to 6 months, the bone graft should join the two vertebrae and form one solid piece of bone.
Why are they conducting surgery through the front of your neck and not the back?
Surgery from the front of the neck is more accessible than from the back (posterior) because the disc can be reached without disturbing the spinal cord, spinal nerves, or the strong neck muscles. The recovery process can also be much longer when conducted posterior.
Are you nervous?
I think it's natural to be nervous about any type of surgery; big or small. But I'm more excited then anything else. I can't wait for the day when I wake up with little to no pain. I'm excited to be able to go back to the gym and to workout. I'm excited not to have so much medication to take on a daily basic. I trust the Doctors who will be working on me and have put all of my faith and trust in God's hands. That's all I can do at this point!
What does life after surgery look like?
This is a question that I won't be able to answer fully until after surgery but right now I know that I won't be able to drive for two to four weeks. Depending on how fast I heal, I can drive when I feel I'm able to hold my neck up without any pain and/or able to move my neck from side to side with no problem. I can never drive while wearing the neck brace that I'll be given to wear everyday for the first few weeks. I'm also told that I can not lift anything over 10 pounds until my six week post-opp appointment. After that, I can work my way up to lifting 15-20 pounds. I'll have a better answer to this question once we know how the surgery goes!
If feels good to open up and share a really personal thing I'm going through in my life. Follow me over on Instagram (mmackvick) for updates on how my surgery goes over the next week or two and keep me in your prayers for a full and speedy recovery!