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C5/6 - 6/7 Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion with instrumentation

From: suzanne40356 - on 05/12/2010 7:40pm

I am at my wit's end...in 2005 while preparing to go to Iraq, I started noticing some odd things. Every time I would put my body armor on, my left arm would go numb. Well since I couldn't do anything about it at the time, I just sucked it up and moved on. Soon my right scapula became very painful. It got to the point where I couldnt sleep at night unless my right arm was on my hip slightly behind me while I was on my left side. Nothing relieved the pain...When I returned to the US in 2006, I went to the doctor who diagnosed a possible winging scapula and prescribed physical therapy. After 3 months of PT and no relief, I finally was ordered an MRI. My right arm and hand by now constantly felt asleep and tingly. The MRI showed degenerative changes at 5-6/6-7 with most significant at the 6-7. I was sent to a Neurosurgeon who felt I did not need surgery. I continued PT that now included traction for the CSPINE. That was a nightmare...In 2007 I had to move to PA and start all over again with a new doctor. This doctor also referred me to a Neurosurgeon who basically told me there was nothing wrong with me but the only test he gave me was to ask me to squeeze his hand. Needless to say, I headed off to Iraq again in 2008 and suffered through the same pains for another year(40-50 lbs of body armor with full load of ammo, radio, etc). Upon my return, the docs at Ft Dix did not want to be bothered with me and sent me on my way. I headed to Ft Benning GA to spend the summer with my then fiance (now my husband). I found an awesome doc there who sent me to an Orthopedic Surgeon who also ordered another MRI. This time there was spinal cord compression leaving me 5-6 mm of spinal cord opening(my normal is 12mm) He told me that I was at a risk for paralysis especially if I were to take a hit from behind. He then scheduled me for surgery. The same night of the surgery, I was actually able to feel my right arm and hand for the first time in 2 years. I healed up well from the surgery except for two minor incidences of whiplash within 2 months of the surgery. I was sent on my way home to PA. The pain has never really left my neck, I still have difficulty with ROM especially while driving. I have to turn practically my whole body to watch for traffic. I have a lot of grinding and popping in my neck and now my left arm has started the whole numb, falling asleep routine. I am seeing a pain management doc who is doing trigger point injections. They work for about 3 hours and then the pain is back and worse. Takes me 2 days to get over one visit. Also, since I am in the Army, I am required to either run 2 miles or walk 2 1/2 miles as part of our fitness test. If I run , it's takes me over 2 weeks for recovery from increased pain. If I do the walk, which is practically a race walk, its still another 2 weeks. I dread the thought of putting a helmet on or body armor and I doubly dread the thought of firing a rifle while in the prone position. I just don't think I can hold my head in that position for that long. Basically at this point, I don't feel that the military docs take me seriously about the pain. I have been in the Army for 23 years so it's not like I am trying to get out of work! I have done my fair share! I just want to have good days more often than the bad. Sorry to vent... I am miserable... :( Any advice?

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on 05/15/2010 6:22pm

Hello Suzanne, all sounds very familiar; I also have a cervical anterior fusion of C5/6 and C6/7 (triple fusion). I had this done at the end of 2006. I also felt immediate relief of most of my previous pain the night after surgery, and although the surgery pain took much longer to heal than they told me (70% after two months, 85% healed after 1 year, and every year I would feel even better) I am still glad I had it done. I also lost my voice for the first two weeks! I have continued to have some grinding and popping, and also can usually only drink when my head is looking forward, but has also gotten better. The PT most likely told you this but the best things I did to reduce my neck pain were to: have correct posture as much as possible (shoulders back - not slouched, head straight up - not looking down), do very specific exercises to strengthen my shoulders and upper back (usually with exercise bands), stretching my shoulders/shoulder blades back frequently in the corners of walls or just pushing them back, lying down on a PT roll that I bought, turning my body instead of my neck whenever I can (BTW - moving the body instead of the neck is a basic fundamental of Tai Chi, and great exercise) and I also invested in a very good pillow that straightens my neck when I sleep (it also helps my snoring when I lay on my side).

Now ,I am not a doctor, but the whiplash is concerning, especially so soon after the fusion. It could be loose and causing the fusion to not heal correctly, or it could just be that your pain may take a longer time to get better than you have expected it to. Just to be sure, at the very least I strongly suggest you go to a good orthopedic surgeon and insist on the usually set of x-rays. The next step would be to have a CT/CAT scan done of your neck (much better detail of fusion area). Also, doctors are only human and some are in too much of a rush so if you still feel strongly that something is wrong with your neck you may want to insist on a CAT scan anyway, just for your own peace of mind. At least you can rule out if your neck hardware is loose and causing movement of attached cervical bone (there should be zero movement). How long has it been since your surgery now? I am sure a good orthopedic surgeon would be able to tell you if it is healing correctly or not.

2009 was a great year for me as far as my neck, I am still cautious about moving my neck but I lifted many very heavy ladders and work equipment with no problems. Until mid-March this year, 2010, I was playing with my 2 year old - on my back holding her up with my arms and swinging my feet up and rocking back and forth - then my feet went to far over my head forcing my chin into my chest and I felt and heard a pop in my neck. Oh no, I thought, I just knew it was my fusion. Although I have had a constant pain in the back of my neck ever since, it started out as dull and achy, and I hoped it would just go away. It did not and now it has progressed into much worse pain, so I finally saw the orthopedic surgeon that did the fusion last week. He took a bunch of x-rays, and in a couple of the side shots three things came up as strong possibilities of abnormalities; one that the screw on the bottom looks to be moving, two that the bone grafting that is supposed to be in-between C6/7 looks like it is gone/black, and three -most likely due to the previous two- they saw movement between C/6 and C7 shown by comparing the x-ray looking straight forward and the x-ray forcing my chin into my neck as far as I possibly could (there should be zero movement). With that they just ordered a CT/CAT scan and I should be able to have that done in the next few days after my insurance clears it. They said for people with neck fusions that they have never seen an insurance company refuse it. I hope that I do not need another surgery but I will do it, if it is needed.

Hope this has been helpful, post here if you have any other questions. I will also update when I get my CAT scan results.

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on 05/16/2010 8:20pm

Hi Suzanne, Have The doc's ever had you try a nerve block? They have the series of 3 that are shot into the spine, not like your pin point injections..They do it with the x-ray machine to watch where they are puting it into..almost like steroids to counter the inflamation on your spinal nerves..I had 2 of them done and opted not to have the 3rd because the 1st two didnt help..But I have heard that they work..And there is also another procedure with electrical shock thats supposed to "kill" the nerves( this is not permanent-up to a yr of relief and you are Twilighted so you dont remember whats going on ) that are causing the pain..I had that as well on the "Greater Occipital nerve Bilateral" The 1st one I will say did bring some relief, but was not as effective as I had hoped, so I had another 1 and didnt help at all.. I have been dealing with problems since 05'..Car wreck rearend by a kid on her cell phone..Ive had 2 fusion surgeries done on c4-7..1st surgery was anterior in 06', had fantastic results for the 1st 1 1/2 mo..but the headaches and pain came back..2 yrs later and a few opinions later, I had a posterior surgery done in early 08' and put 2 rods up the back of my neck...The theory the doc had was that he could still see movement a yr later after 1st surgery and stated that could and was probably the reason for the symptoms to come back after a short 1 1/2 mo pain/ headache free..Unfortunately it didnt work, I didnt notice anything accept the rather large bill.. :( I have been going to a pain ctr for over a yr now and all the docs there is just treat the symptoms with pain pills and other stuff..I know that there are alot of people that would like that, but I cant stand it..!! I just had another cat scan done 04/10 and the disc's above and below are bad (like yours) with the degenerative disease..I will have another surgery, my wife gets scared about that stuff but for those of us who have to deal with this on a daily basis, It is truly miserable..Its not fun to go to bed with a headache and wake up with them as well..I can only wish that "The next Surgery" will take care of the issue..I will get the technical name for that electrical shock (sorry I cant remember the name) if you would like,I just have to get the bill out and find it...I hate to say this but take comfort in knowing that you are not the "only one", and its not just in "your head"..Larry

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on 05/17/2010 1:49pm

Suzanne, have you had a new Anterior MRI? If so how does the disc above and below the fusion look? This is my concern since I need cervical surgery for my C3 and C5. I was told that I would need a fusion, but I want to consider Disc replacement. I learned in school that a fusion is usually good for 10 years. What year was your fusion done? Has your doctor told you it was ok for you to run, and carry all that weight? Didn't you get any disability? I am not a doctor, but I have had a fight with worker's comp. I read someone else's post to you to check the hardware, I would have to agree. The fact that you had 2 additional whiplashes before you even had a chance to fully heal, doesn't sound good. My neurosurgeon told me I would need 3 months to heal from the fusion and I would be wearing a soft collar neck brace for 3 months. Again not a doctor, but didn't they say your job is making your condition worse? Have you been back to the doctor that did the fusion and told him all your symptoms?

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on 05/17/2010 3:41pm

Hi there Trooper, The disc replacement that you have been considering is only good for 1 level..They have been doing tests and trials, to try for a multi level replacement ,but the last I heard it is still only good for 1 level...and sorry to say but 3 mo is a very short time for healing..everyone is different but I believe that is way short..Expect the worst and pray for the best! Good luck too you!

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on 06/04/2010 10:07am

I'm not sure what PA you are refering to . I live in NC and after having a discetomy and fusion here in the small town of Clyde in DEC 08 I Lost complete use of my right arm. Seems 2 nerves were damaged C-5 being the worst and C-6 as well. My surgeon quit seeing me after I begged for an EMG nerve and muscle conductivity test. My family lives in Pittsburgh PA I found a great neurosurgen there over the net, what a great thing. He reviewed my file and tests already ran he ran his tests he explained though rare it was a risk for my surgery and I should have been advised of such, which I was not. My original Surgeon even said he had never seen this before had he known he would have advised me of the risk prior to surgery though his report is worded completely different. Back to why I'm writing. I went to see Dr. Okonkwo UPMC Presbyterian I owe him the use of my arm. He didn't just shrug me away. He not only looked at the test ran already but ran some himself, took me off my stimulator ,sent me back to PT (NO SURGERY) prescribed neorotin. I can now lift my arm over my head. He is also the one who ran my one year xray to check the fusion because as I stated haven't heard from the original surgeon. Though I am grateful to have use of my arm with every positive has come a negative. I have tingling fingers hand arm numbness/pain right side neck and shoulder pain and stiffness. I will be going back to see Okonkwo in July they recomended sooner but with children and living out of state it just hasn't been possible during the school year. There are so many reasons for my symptoms and yours. It is advisable you find a doctor committed to helping you and working with other physicians if need be. So if in PA any where close to PGH I would recomend visiting this surgeon great bed side manner takes time with patients to listen and to explain. This hospital and the hospital adjacent deal with alot of high risk or unexplained prob cases. It's easy for me to recomend the UPMC hospitals as my family members have went through transplant surgery, cancer etc etc. Much luck to you and everyone here. Seems we all need it , spinal surgery is not a quick or absolute cure. I might also add my Aunt had this same surgery done in PGH not with the above mentioned doctor but she has had no complications it will be a year next month. No doctor is perfect there human too but don't give up or stay with one your not compfortable with keep searching all of you, weather for a good doc or a diagnosis. I know I won't quit. Had I listened to the first doc my husband would still be shaving my armpits. GOOD LUCK TO ALL

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on 06/24/2010 9:12am

Thank you everyone for the advice and encouragement. I think I have given up though. Once again I am ready to relocate with no closure on this issue. The trigger point injections were stopped as they did absolutely nothing except give me a whopping headache. I still can't sleep through the night, have the headaches and for some reason, a fuzzy disconnected feeling.

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on 06/25/2010 11:10am

Suzanne, please don't give up. I'll briefly give you my background in case it's helpful to you, but first let me say - thank you so much for your service to our country. You are one of the real heros in our world. I'm 45 now, and my "neck journey" began about 8 years ago when I injured myself on the job doing far too much computer work and heavy lifting. After seeing many doctors I finally had an MRI that showed I had 3 bulging cervical discs and well as some congenital stenosis. Fast forward to December of 2009 when I had C5-C7 fused as well as a laminoplasty procedure on C3-C6. ( I haven't seen this mentioned, but it is a way to decompress the spinal cord by opening and expanding each vertebra without fusing them together.) God has gotten me through every step of this last 8 years and he will continue to protect me going forward. We all make decisions on the basis of the information that we have at the time, and I do not regret any mistakes I may have made in ignorance. But if I could advise someone in a similar situation about one thing, it would be to protect your body from further injury by removing yourself from work that your body can no longer tolerate. I know this is easier said than done (trust me I know), but so incredibly important. My surgery went well, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to stop the progression of my spinal cord damage. Please stay hopeful about there being options for you. I could tell you more if you're interested, but working at the computer is something I'm not able to do for long anymore. Feel free to email me directly (ssimdon@hotmail.com) and I'd be happy to give you my phone number. You are in my prayers.

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on 08/03/2010 3:02pm

i had two back surgeries. one in 1993 and then a spinal fusion done in aug of 1999. i was a cna at the time of my work injury. i have tried everything that the doctors could think of at the time. i went to physicl therapy for months amost a year with the first surgery and differnt treatments and meds. and got the nerve blocks(didn't touch the pain) also the epirdorals which i only got two because they wern't working and the second one went thru one of my discs. so when i moved up to pittsburg i was to the pint of not able to stand or walk without pain. so i found a doctor(surgeon) that does surgeries on the pittsburgh steelers and talk to him. he suggested to get my back fused, which sounded good at the time. i have more pain now and more problems now and there is nothing else anyone can do for me. and the good news is that i get to live on medicine for the rest of my life for the pain and people consider a pill popper becuase i take alot of medicine. i am taking stuff that would knock anyone out, but it doesn't touch the pain because my body is so used to the stuff it doesn't work. now what? i got told that my back is like rottening meat and i am out of luck with getting help. feel as a loner

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