Diane Stokey, 57, doesn’t take any prescription medication. She’s never needed an MRI or CT scan. She’s never broken a bone, needed surgery or had any major health issues. 

The Mooresville resident and former hairdresser took nothing stronger than vitamins until she started taking over-the-counter pain relief for a sore shoulder. She felt it when she’d reach for something in an upper cabinet or behind her back to tie an apron. “I assumed it was my rotator cuff or maybe carpal tunnel,” she said. “As a former hairdresser and someone who’s now in retail merchandising, I’m always lifting my arms.” 

She lived with the pain in her shoulder and arms for three years before finally seeing a doctor in December 2017.  

An MRI revealed Stokey had severe spinal stenosis – a condition where the spinal canal narrows, pinching nerves ­– impacting some vertebrae. A woman who’d never needed surgery now needed an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF), a procedure in which the surgeon goes in through the front of the neck to remove a degenerative or herniated disc in her spine. 

She found Dr. Mark Hartman, a Novant Health orthopedic surgeon in Huntersville, North Carolina, who assured her the 1.5-hour-surgery she needed – a fusion of the two affected vertebrae – is a surgery he performs 50 to 70 times a year. Across the U.S., more than 200,000 ACDF procedures are performed each year.

The fusion involves placing a piece of bone into the region where the disc space previously existed and then placing a plate with screws over the region to stop motion. Over six months to a year, the body will incorporate the bone into the patient’s bone that stops motion, Hartman said. The combination of stopping the motion and decompressing the nerves results in relieving the pain. 

“This is my favorite surgery to perform,” he said. “The outcomes are typically good. After an overnight hospital stay and recovery of a couple of weeks, the patient gets her quality of life back pretty quickly. There’s no physical therapy needed and very little downtime.” 

“It’s the same surgery Peyton Manning had,” Hartman said. The Denver Broncos’ quarterback had ACDF surgery for a herniated disc in 2011. (Hartman follows football closely; his son, Sam Hartman is the starting quarterback for Wake Forest University this year.) 

Stokey was home the day after surgery and driving within two weeks. She didn’t need a brace. She’s had no pain since her surgery. At a recent follow-up visit with Hartman, the doctor told her, “You and I don’t need to see each other again.” 

While she thinks Hartman is “wonderful,” she was only too happy to hear his final diagnosis. She recovered quickly and fully from her first (and only) operation and is happy to have her doctor’s blessing to return to normal.   

When joint pain affects your mobility, it can affect every area of your life. But you don’t have to suffer through it. Novant Health joint experts can help you regain strength and flexibility.