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Spinal Cord Disorders Message Board

Spinal Cord Disorders Board Index


I started lurking in this board prior to my surgery and have learned a lot. I was impressed by the support and comradeship I saw here. However, I did not feel that I had enough to contribute then, so I did not register to be a member. Now that I have gone through what some have gone through, I can share my experience.


I am a 40-year-old male. I have been fairly healthy until now. I do not remember one specific incident that would explain my present condition. I did have my share of fender bender accidents but never had any neck pain afterwards. I have had an active, rough and tumble life style, regularly played volleyball, used to be a soccer goalkeeper, etc. Again, no memorable falls or long lasting pain anywhere…

Symptoms Before the Operation:

1- Wrist and forearm cramping on both arms, during activities like rock climbing or kayak paddling – started about 5 years ago with a burning sensation, the kind you get if you hit your “funny bone” on your elbow onto a hard object.
2- Twitching of certain muscles on both arms, forearms, and pinky finger – started about 3 years ago.
3- Soreness of shoulders and arms, similar to the soreness after a good workout – not sure when it started since I thought it was due to my usual work-outs/volleyball.
4- Deep, low level pain in both shoulders, upper arms, forearms, without prior physical activity – started about 6 months ago.
5- Numbness / tingling / itching feelings on both pinky fingers and the adjacent area of the palm and wrist – started about a year ago.
6- Left arm falling asleep (pins and needles feeling) when my neck is in a certain position – started about 6 months ago and then stopped upon restricting my physical activity.

Experience with Doctors:

1- A general practitioner (who had left a good impression on me on previous visits) said that “You seem to have a nerve damage but I do not know from what”, and left it at that. He did not take my condition seriously nor did he suggest a course of action.
2- A neurologist who ordered MRI and sent me to a neurosurgeon upon reviewing the results.
3- First neurosurgeon who also required x-rays told me that I have a 70-year-old person’s neck (I am 40 years old). He also told me that I had 4 ruptured disks in my neck and I should have surgery as soon as possible. He said that he would do at least 2 levels and use my own bone for the fusing.
4- Second Neurosurgeon proposed to do 3 levels and use donor bone for the fusing. He also mentioned that he might do the remaining level after I healed (a posterior operation). I chose the second surgeon since I preferred using donor bone, had nurse friends at the hospital he worked and the hospital was much closer to my house.

Doctor’s Findings:

1- Hyperflexia (sp?), very sharp reflexes – my foot flies up in the air when my knee is struck.
2- Positive for Hoffmann’s sign. (I had tested negative a year and a half ago).
3- Smaller mass of right arm triceps, easily visible when compared to left arm. Although I had same symptoms for both arms, right arm symptoms started earlier.
4- MRI results (from what I remember): Narrowing of spinal canal at C3-C4, C4-C5, C5-C6 and C6-C7. Worst level was C5-C6, narrowed down to 8mm, and the next worst was C6-C7 at 9mm. I recently read the following written by an MD in one of the boards: “Throughout the cervical region (which of course would include C4-6), the lowest limit of normal for AP diameter of the canal is variable among different individuals. However, 13-20mm is the reported "normal range" reported by some neuroradiology textbooks and articles.”

Operation and Recovery:

I was operated on 3/27/03. C4 through C7 was fused (3 levels) using donor bone and titanium plate. The operation was supposed to be 3 hours long but it lasted close to 6 hours. I was not given an explanation for the delay. I stayed 2 nights at the hospital. It seemed like I could have left after the first night, if I requested. During my first night I was on morphine, the next day I switched to Vicodin, mainly due to disconnection of my IV tube. The worst days of my recovery were on 3rd and 4th days. My throat swelled up and I couldn’t even swallow fluids without trouble. Fluids seemed to go down to the wrong pipe and I was scared to cough. A nurse friend told me later that the 3rd day after surgery is the worst day in many surgeries. My throat got better slowly and I was back to soft foods on day 5 or 6. My voice turned to normal on day 5. I did not have pain if I was stationary. A pain would develop in the middle of my back if I walked for too long. “Too long” meant 10 minutes during the first week, and later it meant 20 minutes or more. Now, a month after the operation, I can walk for an hour, briskly, before I feel pain in the base of my neck (where I guess to be C7 level).

I am wearing a soft brace and will wear it for 2 months total. I started driving after 2 weeks and started work in 3 weeks after the operation. Of course, in the first week of returning to work I did not do much and had short workdays. In order to put up with long hours of sitting, I used a large plastic storage container lid propped on my chair, and a pillow under my head. I had to experiment with different chairs to get it just right.

Lingering Symptoms / Complaints after one month:

1- Left shoulder / upper arm / forearm pain is still there, seems more frequent than pre-surgery but not as severe as it sometimes was.
2- Tingly /itchy feeling of my left pinky and adjacent area is present and seems more frequent than before.
3- Deep dull ache that was present on my left shoulder and upper arm is less frequent and less severe.
4- Above 3 symptoms for my right arm are greatly diminished since the surgery.
5- Twitching on both arms and pinky are still present but diminished since the surgery.
6- There is pain when I swallow. It feels more like a low level sore throat. It is sometimes worse than other times. My throat feels tender to touch (not the incision site). I have difficulty swallowing foods like bread. I have to wash it down with large amount of fluids.
7- I have pain in the base of my neck, in the back, after some physical activity. Also another occasional pain is on the left side of my neck (incision side), extending to the back of my ear.

To those that are still reading: I congratulate you on your patience and perseverance. I just read what I wrote and found it to be quite long and dry. I wanted to make sure I gave the full report so that both pre and post operation people get to compare their symptoms with mine.

ADCF C4-7 with titanium plate, using donor bone

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