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Cervical Disk Replacement and Fusion Experience

Started by COSteve on 12/10/2011 11:40am

I went through a disk replacement at C4-C5 and fusion at C5-C6 a few weeks ago and thought I'd share my experience in the event it may help somebody. I’ve had decreased range of motion in my neck for about ten years and have seen a chiropractor for about the last eight years. Never wanted to go the Chiropractor route but first went as a last resort after having my right arm and hand go numb for over a month and no relief through physical therapy. I've been using a Chiropractor the last few years for both my neck and lower back that uses the Activator method, which I found to be very effective while making micro adjustments rather than the typical gross adjustments found with typical methods. If February of this year my neck took a turn for the worse. By this I mean, the pain in my right upper trapezius and shoulder became constant. I ramped up my visits and started going to the Chiropractor once a week. After a few months of no relief, I began physical therapy. After a month or so of physical therapy with no real relief, I visited my pain management doc who gave me a steroid injection. Should say that I've had good success with the injections in my lower back but was hesitant to get them in my neck, which is why I had not visited my pain management doc earlier. Unfortunately, the injections did not relieve the pain in my neck. About this time, my work sent me out of state for a few months. While at the temporary location my pain continued to get worse, so I visited a local spine surgeon. He ordered an MRI which revealed I had very little disk remaining on the right side of C4-C5 and disk changes in all other spaces except C7-T1. He felt I would end up needing surgery but recommended trying one additional steroid injection. I got the injection, but again it did not relieve the pain or numbness to my shoulder and arm. About this time, I came back to my home state and had to transfer to another state. Once I got settled in to my new location, it was time to start working on finding a surgeon. After some research I decided on using the Neurosurgery docs at the Navy Hospital in San Diego. I should point out that I have the option of military or civilian healthcare and opt for one or the other depending on the situation. I was very comfortable with the doctor. We discussed the different surgical options. I decided on a disk replacement procedure. Main reason was I felt comfortable with him preforming the procedure (they perform more disk replacement procedures than anywhere in the country), I would have greater range of motion over a fusion, and would not have the issue of increasing pressure on adjacent spaces. While being worked up for surgery, I suddenly experienced weakness in my posterior deltoid and triceps area. This periodically also included the biceps and hand. Due to the change in symptoms, my doctor ordered a new MRI prior to surgery. Good thing he did, because the C5-C6 space had significant changes from MRI taken a couple months earlier. I had surgery a couple days later, getting the disk replacement at C4-C5 and fusion at C5-C6. My recovery is going well. The pain is gone which is great. Prior to the surgery I was taking oxycodone and muscle relaxers much more than I care to admit. My range of motion is coming along well. The one thing I'm having trouble with is continued decreased strength in my deltoid, triceps, and to a lesser extent biceps. I went about 3-4 weeks with the weakness prior to the surgery. I am hopeful the strength will come back with time. I also have numbness under my chin down to the incision site. Friend of mine who had 5 or 6 disks fused experienced the same thing and within a few months the feeling came back in the area. I'm also experiencing some acid reflux which is probably from my surgically repaired Hiatal Hernia being irritated during the procedure. My first follow up appointment is next week. I am very glad with the way things have worked out thus far. If I had to do it all over again, I would have visited doctors and seen/had tests/procedures done sooner. This was not possible in my case due to work requirements. Hopefully somebody will find some use from this experience. Best wishes to everybody who is having spine and or pain problems.

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Thought I'd provide another update. Has been two and a half months since the surgery. Began physical therapy a few weeks ago. I had some continued numbness in the right shoulder / posterior deltoid area along with some weakness in the deltoid and biceps. The numbness is mostly gone at this point, although it still comes back at times. Muscle strength is coming back and is at about 80%. In addition to the physical therapy, I work on my Total Gym 2-3 times a week. I do the prescribed at home exercises twice a day also. My range of motion is coming back also. I'm at between 2/3 to 3/4 of normal range of motion depending on the area being measured. Assuming the nerves continue their current regeneration course, I estimate I'll be at near full function within 2-3 months. Obviously, full pre-op range of motion is not possible, but with enhanced thoracic stretching, I should do pretty well. As a matter of fact, my current neck flexion and extension is greater than it has been in at least 15 years. The physical therapy has been very helpful and I recommend everybody who has spinal surgery take advantage of working with a physical therapist. Take it easy starting out and follow the docs orders.