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Spinal Cord Disorders Message Board

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I'll keep this as short as I can...
I had a 2 level (c-5/6 & c-6/7) ACDF on February 8, 2008. Here it is 16 weeks later about all I can say is things are different - not better. Prior to surgery left arm & deltoid pain were my main complaints. Immediately after the surgery my left shoulder began to hurt in the form of a constant ache and occasional sharp pain and my left triceps was (ever since surgery) about 50% weaker than my right. Nonetheless, for the first 10 weeks after the surgery I was feeling progressively better - a lot of which was, I think, recovery from the surgery itself. At about 7 weeks post-op I returned to work (computer stuff) without significant issues. Then at about 10 weeks post-op things sort of reached a plateau and began (in my opinion) moving rather backwards. Since mid-April, I've developed a painful (burning) and stiff neck which never goes away. Sharp pains and occasional small spasms in both deltoids. Sharp pains going down both arms and into the hands/fingers and continued weakness without improvement in my left triceps. In addition to that, ever since surgery my lower back, which has some disk issues as well, has felt kind of like it is on fire (a kind of tired, burning sensation) with occasional jolts of pain in my buttocks, legs and feet.
SOOOoooo... I am definitely wondering about a few things!
[*] Has anyone had an overall [I]similar[/I] experience and what was the outcome?
[*] Is this painful and stiff neck a fairly common part of the healing process?
[*] For that matter, does this all sound like a healing process or more bad news?
[*] When does the Doc (Neurosurgeon in my case) usually get an MRI or something to see how things look inside there post-op? - Mine has yet to look at his work...
At my last visit to the NS on May 12, I told him what I've now told you. He prescribed 3 weeks of physical therapy, 3x per week. The PT feels good - until they stop - then it all comes back. In a week I go back to the NS and I'm feeling rather frustrated. My quality of life ain't what I'd like it to be with this constant pain, etc. But, am I expecting too much too soon?
Hi, I'm not able to give you any advice, but I was really interested in your post because of your description of your leg, back and buttock issues. In short I'm laid up with a neck problem and will be having MRI, EMG and ortho surgeon visit in 5 weeks. For the past 4 months, I've spent a lot of my time propped up in bed, or laying.back in a chair, because that's how I get relief from the neck pain. I had a lumbar disc replacement 7 years ago and have another bulging disc at L4/5 which wasn't bothering me enough to operate on.
About 6 weeks ago I started getting similar pains to what you describe in your buttocks and legs and back, a deep burning, more than pins and needles, like a painful numbness almost, right through my behind, into my tail bone, and then deeper into my lower back. My legs feel heavy and I get patches of numbness in my toes and calves... Sometimes buzzing tingling along the inside of my thighs
At night, when I lay on my right side, it triggers it. It's driving me crazy, because the best position for me to lie in bed is propped back against pillows... almost complete relief for my neck, but I'm sure it is that position which has caused these other problems in my tailbone and back. The mattress protector and sheets end up pushed down the bed, so I must be putting a lot of pressure on that area of my body. Now, I'm nearly as concerned about my back as I was about my neck.
After reading your post, I'm wondering if you too have been sitting or laying back a lot since your surgery, and if this might be triggering the same problem for you? Or else it is the irritated nerves in our necks playing havoc with the lower body and legs?
If it's of any reassurance to you, my hubby and I have both had back surgery, and for him, it was a long hard slog to recovery over 2 years, but he is fine after 26 years. Mine was more of a "2 steps forward one back" progress, but I was 98% back to my old self at about 12 months. There were times I panicked, when all my symptoms had come back and I thought my surgery had come "undone" in some way. A lot of nerves get disturbed with surgery and our body reacts in strange and unpredictable ways to this. My worst time was at 5 months, and I completely dropped my bundle then, thinking it had all failed, but it was just another plateau I'd hit. I was surprised by how vulnerable I felt after surgery, like my spine was made of glass. I was frightened of getting bumped in the supermarket, and petrified of falling over etc. I had a disc replacement and no fusion, so I can't give any advice at all about fusions healing.
Sorry to be so long, but I did want to touch base with you about the buttock/leg thing. I've read about the piriformis (sp?) muscle in the buttock getting irritated and acting up like this, and I think I may have simply sat on mine for too long LOL ?
It'd be interesting if anyone else had these symptoms as a side effect of neck problems.
Hope you have a better day today.
Neckpatient gave you spot on advice - you are probably doing too much, even though you think you should be all better by now. That burning/stabbing in the shoulders is, unfortunately, a common problem after the surgery. The fusion changes the alignment of your cervical spine, which affects your thoracic spine, which affects your lumbar spine - get the picture? Your body is adapting to all this new stuff and as the muscles and joints slowly hurts! Also, the degree of nerve damage you had before surgery will affect how long it takes for you to recover. If you were in a lot of pain before surgery, recovery might take a little longer.

You are at/around a time when the damaged nerves are starting to come back online and are clamoring for attention. Things in your body can get kinda wacky and weird. You can have "delayed stressors", which means you can overdo something on Monday morning, but not start having pain from it until Wednesday night. Strange, huh? The wild and wonderful world of nerve healing....

Your references to shoulder pain and headaches and surgical site pain all sound pretty common, as do the descriptions of pain shooting into arms and hands. Still, you should go with your gut and push your doctor on this. Better to trust your own instincts.

A note I think is very important - computer usage is the #1 complaint for causing neck problems and it's related aches and pains. You might think you're "doing nothing" while you're sitting at your computer all day, but you are, in fact, putting stress on your cervical spine just by sitting there. Raising your arms to type affects the neck. Even using your fingers affects the cervical nerves. (so, for example, if you were sitting supported and relaxed in a recliner and using a laptop and basically only moving your fingers, it could still cause you pain.....)

Watch your posture and do all the suggested proper postioning stuff suggested for working at a desk. You know, rest your feet so that knees are even with hips (I use a lift under my desk), forearms parallel to the floor, your head pulled back and straight on the neck, etc., etc., etc. You can search the internet or even ask your physical therapist to go over that with you.

And, if there's any way you can pull it off at work, find a quiet place to sit and relax for 5-10 minutes every couple of hours. It will help.

Also very important - if you are in pain, take something for it. NSAIDS are a no-no for the first few months, so if you don't have something else to take, ask your doctor. Pain causes muscles to tense, which aggravates inflammation and, well, duh, it hurts more. Pain can also cause you do hold your body in funny positions. (hunched, tight, shoulders a classic for neck patients.....) Pain also stresses you out, which negatively affects the healing process. If you can't handle narcotics, ask for something like Ultram.

Or maybe try Lyrica or Neurontin, which work specifically on nerve pain.

I really hope you start finding some relief soon. It's awful to hurt and feel bad and not be sure of what's going on. Good luck to you.

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