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Posted in: Herniated disc, Neck pain, and Surgery.

Pain after fusion surgery

Started by di6753 on 04/25/2016 10:36am

I had acdf surgery on 5/6 n 6/7 almost a month ago. Before the surgery I had mainly right sided pain and weakness into my right arm and hand period after the surgery I am now experiencing pain on both sides and both arms as well into my upper arms which I've never had before it was always the lower arm and hands. When I went for my checkup doctor said everything was normal and that this was referred pain. I do know some of this is muscle spasms in my back I can feel that but the pain and numbness into my upper arms is totally different and I can tell this is not muscle spasms. I wear my collar most of the time to sleep in because it's too uncomfortable not to. But they told me I don't need to wear the color except when I'm in a car or walking outside. I have neck pain which I pretty much figure is normal however still experiencing pain into my pinky finger and the one next to it on my right hand is anyone else having the same problems.

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Hi di6753, I had 3 level ACDF surgery on April 6 on c4-c7. I too have new sensations that were not there prior to the procedure. I had my 2 week check-up and the feeling was restored to my right hand, arm, fingers. No numbness or pins and needles anymore. Well, that has changed and I have pins & needles in both feet, left hand, and severe jerky muscle spasms. I did not have to wear a collar because I have a 4 inch plate; however, I did wear a color in the car until I was released to drive and anytime my head felt too heavy for my neck. I hope this helps.

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Ty. I know it's early in recovery but even doing small things throw my neck and upper back muscles into horrible spasms. I didn't like the soft collar at first, now I find without it it hurts to hold my neck up.

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Hi - I had 2 level acdf on March 23rd. Before surgery, I had pain, numbness and loss of strength in my right arm. When I woke up from surgery, the pain pain and numbness was gone. I wore a soft collar for a week and started PT after two weeks. Now, 5 weeks later, I have a stabbing pain in my cervical spine and my left arm and shoulder are very achy. I feel like I traded one pain for another. My neurosurgeon says that this will go away and has advised me to stick with therapy 3x a week and take Tylenol for pain. Well, Tylenol doesn't even touch the pain. I am also very tired and all of my joints ache. Basically, I feel awful. My Dr. isn't concerned but I am. I thought I would fell better than this by now. I am not sure where I should turn for help.

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Cheryl my surgery was April 5. Also level 2. I am having the same issues. I haven't started PT yet. My Dr says this is normal also. I am also starting to get worried. I am on pain medicine and it doesn't even help anymore. And I'm trying to get off it not go higher on the dosage. I also feel like I traded one problem for another. This is awful. I'm also afraid to even start PT now because it seems like even the slightest bit of activity aggravates it worse. I'm due to go back to the Dr May 2. Even trying to wash dishes is so painful. Trying to hold my neck up brings me to tears. I also don't know where to turn. The Dr seems to think it's nothing to worry about.

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Hi di6753, I have other physical issues that require I take pain medication for, such as RA, OA, and fibromyalgia. I cannot take medication for RA for at least 4 months or the fusion will fail. My doctors explained to me the positioning of our body to remove and replace our disks. The incision is small compared to the amount of work done on the cervical spine. The intricate nature of the nerves, muscles, tendons, etc that are cut and impossible to reconnect are protesting. My arms, back (not interior spine but back muscles, and chest feel like I participated in a cross fit competition. I believe if they were honest about the early discomfort and pain the majority of people would opted to not have surgery. Let's keep track of our pain and compare notes. We all seem to be experiencing the same sensations, so it must be a part of the healing process.

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Keke624,
I was told that the pain would be gone as soon as I woke up from the surgery, if it worked. So I was not expecting what I woke up to. I agree with you. If they told the truth I believe I may not have had the surgery. As of today I am still having pain badly. As well as new sensations such as burning and aching in my back and both arms. Sleeping is difficult. I have managed to keep my soft collar off today. I hope I don't pay for it later. I am supposed to start a bone growth stimulator. Waiting for insurance approval. I'm guessing on May 2 they are also going to start Physical therapy. Keep me posted on how your doing.

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How long does it take for the "referred pain" to subside? Any ideas?

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Hi, everyone! I, too, had acdf of c5-c7. First, let me say that 4 weeks post-op is way too early to expect a lot of relief! Yes, the post-op discomfort is different from pre-op pain. One reason may include the fact that your surgeon moved and stretched muscles, tendons, arteries and your esophagus to get to your spine. Then he/she had to insert a bone graft which spread each disc space a bit wider than it had been. Plus, Your head and neck were in very awkward positions during surgery. All these can cause incredibly painful muscle spasms. I don't know why some docs don't just prescribe muscle relaxers automatically with this surgery! But if yours didn't, it's never too late to ask for them! Heat on the back of my neck also helped.

As for the referred pain, this may be a lingering result of the compression of nerves that have now been decompressed. Nerves are notoriously slow to heal, so give them time. Some discomfort may simply be those nerves "waking up"!

For me, it was three months before I felt significant improvement in pain level. Then, each month after that, I could tell that I was making good progress. After 12 months, I was about 90% pain-free. After 18 months, no pain at all!

Yes, it's slow -- but this is major surgery! Get as much rest as you can, and walk, walk, walk!! Be kind to yourself and patient.

And regarding the difficulty you are likely having with lying down and sleeping, roll up a small towel into a neck roll about 3" in diameter and put it under the back of your neck.

Best wishes for a speedy and successful recovery!

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Bonnie Raeford and Cheryl,
I saw my Dr today. He said just about the same as you Bonnie Rae. Cheryl he said they can't put a time limit on referred pain
But I can say in the last week alone I'm feeling a little better. I start soft Pt. Also my Dr has had me on muscle relaxers since the beginning. I am more confident about a good ending today unlike last week. I still have trouble getting comfortable but at least I'm sleeping more now. Although if I don't fuse, I don't know if I could do this again. I was told I can drive . Thank you for all your input .

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Thanks everyone. I guess I am just impatient. I was told by two doctors that I could go back to work as early as a week after surgery. I started driving 5 days after surgery. I told my doctor that I really shouldn't be driving but he told me not to worry about it. Clearly he has not had to drive with limited range of motion in the neck! I am going back to my surgeon on Friday. I don't think he will do anything but when I told him that it is my 4th week of PT and I feel worse he told me to come in. I have muscle relaxers but they knock me out so I don't take them. I expected pain after my surgery but I just didn't expect it to get worse over time.

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Cheryl, I know the feeling but if I don't take the pain meds n the muscle relaxers I cry. I don't know how your doing without them. I give you a lot of credit. I'm a house wife. I have know idea what I would do if I had to go to work. I told my Dr yesterday ( I think this is more painful than having a baby ). I had five children natural child birth. I guess I'm also impatient. I have started lowering the pain medication and the muscle relaxers but it is going slower than I hoped it would. How do you feel with the PT. I start soft PT sometime next week. Then I about 6 weeks strengthening. I been going through this for 2 years and have lost a lot of my muscle strength. Now that surgery is over I can't wait to start exercising but I'm nervous to go to fast. The Dr said no strengthening, first soft PT.

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I work full time and I am a single mom. My 7 year old daughter is autistic and can live on little sleep so I have to stay somewhat coherent. LOL My Dr won't prescribe me narcotics. He says that I should not need them at this time. Obviously he hasn't had multi-level acdf surgery! Before surgery, I was having a problem getting my pain meds filled. I live in South Florida, otherwise known as the rehab capital of America, and it is VERY difficult to get pain meds down here. It is up to the pharmacist to decide if he/she will fill the prescription. Even if the pharmacist will fill it, the insurance company may deny it. It is very frustrating. I was at a Walgreens pharmacy, 6 days post-op and was denied pain meds because I received 15 from the hospital when I had surgery. I was told that I had to wait 23 days before I could have another prescription filled.
Right now, I just try to get through each day. I have PT tomorrow but the therapist will just use heat and stimulation. I won't do any exercises because I am in too much pain. I see my surgeon on Friday.

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Cheryl, oh jeez! I feel for you! I was nervous about taking pain meds in the beginning. I was so afraid of them. I went without them for a long time. It was awful. So I know. A couple of months ago I started having trouble holding things with my right hand and severe pain and weakness. My new Dr told me to take them and just be careful to only take them as prescribed. That's why I'm already trying to lower them. I couldn't have dealt with this pain without them. My hats off to you. As for the PT what you are doing is what I will be starting. I am nervous because when I try to go 7 or 8 hours instead of taking the meds every 6 hrs I hurt so bad. With the medication I am ok. That scares me because I want off of them. But when I don't take them I have so much pain.

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Hi di6753,, Here is the update I promised. Well, I found out today that all of the pins and needles, neck pain, excruciating mid-back pain between the shoulder blades, and pain going down my left leg are good pains. The nerves are regenerating, reconnecting, and coming alive simultaneously. After 20 minutes of driving my fingers had such pins and needles that I had to drive with the palms of my hands. The doctor stated if they are honest and inform us of the difficult recovery we would not have the life preserving surgery. Today, I am in acceptance and know I have a long road ahead of me. I can deal with this much better than being told what pain? My doctors in Texas are good with prescribing adequate medication to control pain. That is much better than some states.

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Kecia, I agree. My Dr's are also good with providing medication for the pain. I'm in Nj. I feel for others like Cheryl. I'm glad your doing well. I start soft physical therapy this morning. I have been told that the pain I'm in is normal and that the new pain in my left arm is from nerves being agitated from surgery. The right side pain is getting slowly better. So are the muscle spasms. I haven't needed my collar in 2 days. That's progress for me. Although yesterday with all this rain , was painful.

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Hi - I have an update. I was scheduled to see my surgeon last Friday but he cancelled the appointment because he had vertigo. Yes, you can laugh, I did. I was in so much pain that I went to urgent care and they gave me a shot of Tramadol which helped for 3 hours. I was able to see my surgeon yesterday (Monday) and told him about the pain I am feeling and he said "Do you want a shot of cortisone?". I said OK and he gave me a shot in my neck. Today is Tuesday and I feel worse than I did before the shot. I have had cortisone shots before (not in my neck) and they have helped immensely but I feel worse after this one. I'm not sure what to do. My surgeon thinks my pain is all muscular. I feel like someone is stabbing an ice pick between two vertebrae in my neck. I don't think that is muscular. I feel like my surgeon doesn't believe me. Should I try to get a second opinion?

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HI Cheryl, I got like 5 opinions because I did not want to have the surgery and they all told me the same thing, which was "Kecia you need to have surgery". I finally surrendered or gave up. I hope you get the answers you are seeking, and a compassionate and competent doctor who will be diligent in finding out what is wrong. Keeping you in my prayers.

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Hello everyone. I am so glad to hear from people who have the same issues that I am. Misery loves company! I'm just kidding but it is nice to be able to discuss pain with those that share the same problems. I'm afraid that the few that I have to talk to are getting tired of my complaining.

I am in my 9th week second post op 2 level acdf surgery. The first I had in 2008 c 4/5 and 5/6. On March 9th I had c3/4 and 6/7 done. This second one seems to be taking longer to heal from. They had to make a vertical incision rather than the usual horizontal one so that they could expose more of my cervical spine. I also had the plating removed from the first surgery. I had lots of pain and swallowing issues with this one. I also still have lingering incision sensitivity along with numbness under my chin to about half way down my neck. I can deal with all that but the original pain and weakness which was in my right arm and hand is still there :(. I'm frustrated because when I try to use it or strengthen it it starts hurting .

I thought I would be further along at this point. I started off really good, walking alot and doing small things but now that I'm trying to increase my activity and go back to work I'm back in pain again. I seem to have a lot of pain on the left side of my neck (surgery side) and down the center of my spine. Sometimes I feel like I'm going backwards.

I too would like to know when my arm pain will start going away. I know it takes a long time for nerves to heal but I don't seem to notice a progression. It is really depressing at times because after going through all the pain of surgery you would like to see some good come from it. I just hope my nerve issues are not permanent. I go next week for another post op and I'm not sure how to address the pain with my surgeon. I really don't want to be a patient who whines too much.

How many of you still take pain medication at least once a day?

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Cheryl, good luck with second opinions! I have found that doctors are reluctant to give second opinions. I have had an awful time getting multi opinions. As soon as one hears that you have been to a surgeon before them they will hardly give you the time of day. I am sorry that I seem cynical but it is what I personally encountered. I even had a hard time just getting an appointment with a surgeon to have a consultation. I'm not sure why, maybe they are just over booked with so many hurting people. I was lucky to have 2 conversations with my surgeon before I decided to have the surgery. I would have liked to have a more thorough conversation but it seems to never go that way. I researched everything myself as well as I could and made my decision that way. I would have liked to consulted with a few surgeons to get other opinions but had such a hard time getting in.

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June 5th I will be 2 months out . I am still on pain meds but trying to lower them. Every time I think I'm making progress I move backwards. Yesterday was a great day painwise. only needed meds 2 times. I woke up today and I have burning aching pain , pain level a 9. The pain is going into my right shoulder down my right arm. I am trying to stay positive but it is hard today.

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littlerob, I am currently taking pain meds 4 times a day. I understand how you feel. It does start to get me down to. I am trying to get off all this stuff so I can start living my life again. It gets frustrating at times. After the surgery I was on the muscle relaxers 3 times a day, now I take them 2x a day. I was on the pain meds 6x aday. It is a mild medicine. I am now down to 4x a day and am trying to go down to 3x a day. I have noticed the pain amplifies when it is rainy or cold. Any kind of activity makes it worse also. I am still waiting for my PT to be worked out. I just want to be normal again.

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Hi everyone, We all seem to be going through the exact same things. I am almost 8 weeks out and the pain is almost unbearable today. I live in Dallas and it will not stop raining. We had over 20 days of rain in May. I also have RA and fibromyalgia. I saw my rheumatologist on Friday and both diseases are flared up. I cannot take a biological or any medications to suppress my immune system, which is what the RA and fibromyalgia medications are made to do. I too am very aware of my strength lessening. I am waiting for PT to call me and schedule an appointment. I am a server/trainer at Chili's and right hand dominate. I can use my right hand and arm about 15%. I have been walking, but I cannot stay up and erect longer than 3 hours. My son works about 25 minutes from home. When I do a turnaround trip by the time I am 10 minutes from home both of my hands and left foot have pins & needles so bad that I cannot hand the steering wheel. I have other right side restrictions such as turning my head to look over my shoulder (cannot do it). I am in a Master's program and I do not have the strength to lift my book. I too thought I would be further along. My next appointment is 6/28 and I will have photos of my neck to check fusion.

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I am 12 weeks post op and have some positive news! At about 11 weeks I started to feel that my arm had a little push back when I did my push against the wall test. I started testing it about every 3 days and now I think the nerve is finally starting to fire. It still is weak but at least it doesn't give out. I have had 5 PT appointments which has given me some neck strengthening exercises and exercises for my triceps and traps. I always have some pain after I do the exercises but I guess that is because those muscles haven't been working for a while. I'm just glad that I am starting to see some improvement. I was beginning to feel that I either had permanent damage or something else was wrong. I still get sore in my neck and shoulders if I over do. The problem is that I'm feeling stronger so I do more and then pay for it the next day. I do still take a pain pill or muscle relaxer at night if I need it. I have to comment on sleeping though. I have trouble sleeping anyway so if I have any pain I toss and turn all night which leaves me having a really bad day. Sleep is so important to my healing. If I don't get it I'm miserable. I sometimes will take the muscle relaxer just so I can sleep. So look for improvements even if it is just your feelings in general aside from stiffness and pain at 11 or 12 weeks out. I will continue to post to give any updates

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There I went bragging about doing better and then since I posted I'm back to a lot of pain in my neck again. It seems to be a vicious circle trying to do just a little strength exercise for my arm and traps and then regretting it because it causes too much pain. I think I'm going to stop for a while and see what happens naturally. I have one PT appointment left and I will see what he says. Right now it hurts just to bend my neck at all. I guess I might be on that pain pill at night for a while longer. 12 weeks! I thought I was rounding a corner. I forgot to mention that I have more pain during rain and also air condition can trigger it. I am going to keep a scarf handy.

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