Forum: Advice / Injuries

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Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By pondflyPremium member
On Tue Jun 29, 2010 11:30 PM

I got the call from my work comp case manager today (well, yesterday now) saying that they are approving my case being transferred to a very good otrho & neuro group (they did my knee surgeries).

Barring my new MRI that I get this week hasn't done a complete 180* and magically got better, I should be going under the knife for a fusion of c6-c7 and possibly c5-c6 by the middle to late next month.

If you have had one or know of someone who has had a fusion of the cervical area please post your experiences as I'm familiar with the procedure, but would like info on post surgical and recoveries from others.

I've let my instructors and studio owner know today and we'll be figuring how I can continue with obvious modifications based upon the recommendation of the surgeons. I've gone too far in a year to only be idle for several months.

Thanks in advance.

31 Replies to Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences

re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By starlightkitty
On Wed Jun 30, 2010 01:37 AM
I had a lumbar spinal fusion (L4-S1) 2 years ago, so I'm not sure how my experience will compare to yours (I was also only 19 at the time).

The surgery itself was around 6 hours, and I spent a week in the hospital. I was on IV painkillers for about 4 days, and then oral meds for maybe 2 months. Part of the reason I was on the oral painkillers so long was that I wasn't allowed to take any NSAIDs or aspirin because it might slow down the bone healing, and tylenol doesn't do much for me. I had to wear a brace for 6 weeks (and wasn't allowed to drive) and no physical activity for 3 months. After about 6 months I was back to normal activity levels, but no high impact exercise (running, etc) or heavy lifting for a year.

I had bone taken from my hip for the fusion, and while my doctor said that would probably end up being more painful than the fusion, it didn't end up being too bad. I think my back hurt more than my hip did. I have a nice 6 inch scar down my back and some occasional discomfort if I've been on my feet all day, but otherwise everything is great.

If you have any questions, let me know. Wishing you a speedy recovery
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By Arakmember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Wed Jun 30, 2010 08:46 PM
I have not had a spinal fusion, but I am a massage therapist and I see a good number of clients who have had them (cervical and lumbar). I've never had a single one tell me "I feel so much better since I had that spinal fusion!" So I guess what that says to me is, don't expect a miracle. It is surgery, and most surgeries run the risk of leaving you with different aches and pains after taking care of the ones you started with - and they don't always do that. Surgery really should be an absolute, last-ditch resort after exhausting every other option and finding no relief from anything.
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By pondflyPremium member
On Wed Jun 30, 2010 09:41 PM
Here is what I've had done in the past three years:
Micro-manipulation of the vertebrae
Electro stim with topical steriods
9 facet steroidal injections in less than 9 months (over the normal limit)
PT sessions to end all sessions.

Other than the last set of injections which gave me a relief of only two weeks, nothing has worked.
I can physically detect the exact point of contact that is causing the issue. The neuro moved my head in a couple positions and he nearly had to pull me off the ceiling with the last one as it hurt so much.
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By kandykanePremium member
On Wed Jun 30, 2010 11:55 PM
My best friend has degenerative disc disease and has been through many of the procedures you list. She had a cervical surgery (not fusion) and they went through her throat and the worst part of her recovery was learning to swallow again. It was very difficult and painful. (I don't have any idea if they are doing your's through the front, you might ask your surgeon)

After the surgery she felt better. Five years later, she is now facing her phase two surgery of the same kind (just lower discs). But, I digress, as your condition is not degenerative in nature that part really has no bearing.

I have been with her for many of her procedures and I feel for you. Chronic pain is very hard to live with. Best wishes on your surgery.

re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By Coccinellamember has saluted, click to view salute photosPremium member
On Thu Jul 01, 2010 01:37 PM
^ Almost anyone with a spine can be "diagnosed" with degenerative disc disease. Discs degenerate, that's what they do. After teen years, disc tissue doesn't repair itself as readily, much like the rest of the body. I worked in a chiropractic/spinal decompression/exercise and rehabilitation facility and the majority of peoples Xrays have DDD (degenerative disc disease) written on them. Does that mean there's nothing we can do? No. There are many treaments, exercise plans, and diets that support spinal health and promote healing. When someones spine is not aligned properly (subluxations) it causes someones spine to age faster than it normally should.

OP, I met people who have had these surgeries and it has worked well for some. I think it seems like you've tried a lot of treatments and have had a really tough time. I hope this works for you and you can find some relief.
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By kandykanePremium member
On Thu Jul 01, 2010 02:32 PM
^ Her actual diagnosis was not degenerative disc disease. (That was my layman's language.) It's more complicated than that and believe me, she has been to many, many specialists. She has spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis. It is present in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar regions. So, she is facing multitple surgeries and has been through so many treatments (such as pondfly mentions) trying to postpone her surgeries. Her first cervical surgery was that 'cage' that they put in place.

I never said there was nothing they could do. :? Yes, her condition is degenerative. No, they cannot stop the degeneration but they can and do treat her symptoms. She still has much more pain than a person should have to live with.

re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By madseasonPremium member
On Thu Jul 01, 2010 08:11 PM
I have not had a spinal fusion but I have a friend that had one about three years ago. She still have quite a bit of pain. I am not clear on her initial (or current) diagnosis, how her procedure went or even the extent of her procedure so that pain may have nothing to do with her fusion: but it is located in her Cervical spine which is where she had the fusion.

I really just wanted to pop in and say that I hope whatever happens, that you find a solution and find comfort. I have been dealing with a back injury for just a few months and it's unbearable, so I can only imagine what you must be dealing with. Back problems can be so frustrating. I really am wishing you the best.
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By pondflyPremium member
On Thu Jul 01, 2010 09:40 PM
Thank you all for your input and comments, I take every one with great notice.

The fusion is an anterior fusion (where they go in the front), if it is only one fusion, they are going to use a plastic disc replacement. Anything more then they will be using donor bone from me to assist in the fusion.

There indeed will be a sore throat due to several factors. Me being intubated (third time this year) and the trauma done to the area due to the musculature. That will go away in time, so once again I'll be eating ice chips, pudding and other soft foods but not until I get some anti-nausea meds in me once I wake up.

I let the teachers and owner yesterday and we'll see what I can do based upon my recommendation from the surgeons. The nice part of the surgeon group is that they deal in sports medicine and treat all the major sports teams and several dance companies in the area, so they know what I will be able to be able to do and what I will be able to do.

I hope to be able to participate in the winter performances but I'm not holding myself to the task. I will not put myself at risk for something else.
There are only a few males at our level or higher at our academy, so it has given me some motivation.

They told me 4-12 months on my arm surgery and I was back to full duty in 7 weeks. My knee surgeries were about 6 weeks so if the trend holds true there may be a possibility.

Madseason- I completely feel for your back as I've done almost 20 years of carrying people and moving heavy objects and know how debilitating a good back injury can be.

KandyKane- My charge nurse who works with me has a son with the same problems as your friend has. He has the same surgeon team that I am having and after two surgeries he has made an incredible recovery.
It took about 9 months, but he done so well that recently he took up P90 exercises and also just finished Krav Maga, something that I can never do.
I know that both her and her son would definitely recommend this surgeon for your friend if they were in our area.
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By pondflyPremium member
On Tue Jul 06, 2010 11:30 PM
I had the MRI today and the results are not good. While they have not been professionally read, I've read many over the years and from what I can see I've got herniations from C4-C7. C5-C6 has pushed nearly 99% into the dura mater and the C6-C7 is about the same but larger.
Comparing it from the original MRI, this one it is much worse, but the resolution and power were much more powerful this time.

Well this certainly explains the pain that I've had for all this time. Last night I was nearly in tears from the pain and I was medicated, heavily. I have a huge tolerance for pain and it is testing me to my limits.

I see the surgeon on the 12th to see what direction we are going to proceed. No way around this one, I'm getting fused. Just not sure how much will be done.
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By pondflyPremium member
On Mon Jul 12, 2010 09:17 PM
Update 7-12

I went to the surgeon today and I will be getting a C6-C7 fusion on the 30th. He feels that it should take care of most of the issues, however if I'm still having issues after a month he will go in and then fuse C5-C6 at that time. He's taking the approach of being the least invasive and moving from there.
I'll be in the hospital for about 24 hours and then go home to recover.
Being that I'm a smaller person makes the surgery easier but I'll be having a little more tracheal swelling and a little more pain than others (big deal after what I've been through). One month of nothing and then slow progression of light duty for about 6 months.

The doc says that I can continue with my normal dance routine (with the exception of lifting) within a couple weeks, but I will go with my feelings and not push it.
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By kandykanePremium member
On Tue Jul 13, 2010 01:57 AM
A month seems awfully soon to go back in. I hope it doesn't come to that. The first surgery will be enough for you to deal with. Stock up on easy to swallow foods before you go in. It may be several days before you can get anything solid down.

Wishing the best for you!

re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By pondflyPremium member
On Fri Jul 30, 2010 04:43 PM
Surgery went well. It took about an hour for the surgery, total about 6 hours from the time I checked in to being transferred to my private room. Pain is not too bad, but I'm pushing the Morphine every 45-90 minutes. Pain is at the incision site and in the throat. The staff has been very professional and polite and I for the first time I can actually say that I'm glad to have a foley in myself as I'm having some trouble with urinary retention.
Unfortunately no talks with Santa, Pope or leprechauns. They really snowed me well, but when I came out I was pretty clear. I'm just doing a little apnea when I sleep, so they are monitoring it.

My kingdom for some nice Gelato or Italian Ice now :C
And for your morbid folks, this is the incision site with a drainage tube in place for now.
Image hotlink - ''
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By kandykanePremium member
On Sat Jul 31, 2010 01:45 AM
Glad to hear the surgery went well. The best thing to do now is get some rest. Best wishes and get well soon!

re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By pondflyPremium member
On Sat Jul 31, 2010 08:35 AM
Update 7-31

Ok, night is over. Got a couple hours sleep, but they checked on me every few hours. I haven't used the MS since 0500 and I'm hurting (Just pressed the PCA recently). The foley is out and I'm drinking to make sure I can get my bladder function back. They've removed my JP (drainage) tube and most likely I'm going to get out today.
I'm working on uploading the video of my surgery on YouTube and I'll let everyone know when they come up.

Thanks to everyone for their prayers and well wishes, I appreciate it. It's going to be a long trip, and hopefully I don't need to get the next section fused, but I won't argue if I need to.
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By pondflyPremium member
On Sat Jul 31, 2010 10:48 AM
The video is now up and running. A bit of warning, the video shows a surgical procedure and contains blood and other items that may be unsuitable for persons with a weak stomach.
With that disclaimer out of the way, grab your popcorn and enjoy. . . .
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By toroandbruinmember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Sat Jul 31, 2010 01:37 PM
Interesting set of videos. Since there was no sound (either that or the sound on my computer has quit) I didn't always know what they were doing. Also, can I assume that your head is somewhere to the right of the screen and your feet to the left (or vice versa) and that the camera is looking down more or less from the surgeon's point of view as he stands at the side? Of course, you could place a camera anywhere in the overhead lighting apparatus, so this might not be the case. At the end they put some sort of permanent plate or patch in you. Is that meant to hold you together forever or will it dissolve once you have healed?
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By pondflyPremium member
On Sat Jul 31, 2010 09:54 PM
There is no audio as I'm sure they don't want that to be used against them if any case were to go to court.
Last thing I remember was lying on my back, ankles in some silicone cups to secure them, a wide belt over my waist to keep me on the table, the left arm was secured on side facing armboard.
When I made it up to my room I had three small blood spots on my head. One on each side of my temples and one on the back of my neck. I must have had my head immobilized in a halo device.
The fusion is secured with a titanium plate over the sections and then 4 screws are placed in the two vertebrae to secure the section.

The fusion is permanent unless I break the hardware, so I have to be careful for a while. No neck work or lifting for several months, so I'm going to work on core strengthening, stop curling my toes as much and such. When I go back to class I'm going to modify what I can and can't do. Obviously pirouettes are out, heavy modification on the Pilates, easy on the character and no partnering for several months.
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By YumYumDoughnutPremium member
On Sat Jul 31, 2010 11:45 PM
I loved watching the videos!.

I have to ask, what is that white stuff at 2:06 in this link? . . .
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By pondflyPremium member
On Sun Aug 01, 2010 09:01 PM
The disc between the vertebrae is had two textures. The outer part of the disc is fibrous and tough, where the inside is jelly like to offer the padding between the bones and nerves. What you were looking was the inner portion of the disc they were removing.
Cervical Spinal Fusion- Two weeks post surgery
By pondflyPremium member
On Thu Aug 12, 2010 09:03 PM
Well tomorrow will be two weeks post surgery and I thought I'd pop in an update.

I have gained a considerable amount of energy, but I still do quite a bit of quality couch time.
I'm walking between 2-3 miles a day with the dog, but the hot weather is curtailing it a bit. Yesterday I started a little barre and core work, something that doesn't involve using the arms as I'm restricted to 10#.

The incision is healed, but I have a noticeable lump in the throat and obviously will have a scar (which I could care less).
My pain in the lower neck is nearly gone, but I still have pain in the upper neck and head. The pain is exactly like what I had before surgery, but a little less in intensity.

I still have soreness in the upper back, chest and arms, but nothing that a little PT can't fix as I had all of that when I was originally injured.
I can move my head from side to side to my shoulders, up only an inch or two and down almost to the chest. This is a great improvement from a week ago.

I had originally weaned myself off of all narcotic pain meds, but the surgeon suggested that I stay on them and the muscle relaxers for a while to help healing and with the head/neck pain.

Tomorrow I can finally drive :) but I have to be very careful as I can easily ruin the fusion or even pull out the screws and plate if I get in an accident.
Monday I plan on going to the advanced beginner and character class, but no jumping or turns and only to what I feel comfortable with.

I have a follow up on the third and hopefully I won't need another fusion, but if I need to then I have no problems with it. I hope that I can begin PT shortly thereafter as I have a long way to go.

In general, this was a great surgery and would have it again, and I only wish I had it a couple years ago as the damage would have been less.
Yesterday, went to class
By pondflyPremium member
On Tue Aug 17, 2010 09:02 PM
Yesterday I decided to come to the last summer class before a couple week break. It has been 17 days post surgery so I had already decided to really restrict myself by not bending forward too much and not back at all. I also restricted myself to no turns or jumps and limited turning of the head.
Warming up at the barre and floor was hard as I had done nothing but walking and some foot work to stop curling my toes. While hard, I was able to keep up on everything, but sloppy.
When the class did something that I had restricted myself to I did some balancing or stretching, and any turns I would go from preparation to releve and back down. Everything went fine.
After the first class we had our Character and that was fine, other than me just restricting myself to not tapping the floor too hard.

Things I can say now two and a half weeks post surgery. I still have pain in the neck and head very similar to what I had before the surgery, just a little less intense (still taking narcs twice a day). This is something that I will bring up with the surgeon on the second to see if we should fuse the other section that has a bad herniation.

I have lost a lot of flexibility, as I was not stretching. You don't really have energy for the first week and then slowly it comes back. I was more concerned about the cardio, than stretching, but there is a lot of muscle tension from the surgery. I really don't want to push anything as this is all work comp and I don't need problems.
Now that I have more energy I'll begin a stretching and theraband routine in addition to a modified Pilates to get some of what I lost back. Who knows, I might get some more out of it as well.
Cervical Spinal Fusion- One month post-op
By pondflyPremium member
On Mon Aug 30, 2010 06:06 PM
Well, today marks a month. I've lost most of the pain in the lower neck, but I still have pretty bad pain in the upper neck, head and now my arm that was operated on in March is giving me problems. I've been able to reduce some of the narcotic use, but still taking it twice a day at a minimum.
My range of motion in my neck is very good in all directions except upwards which is only a couple inches. I can feel the true fusion when looking to the left and right, but very minimal.

I'm still on full disability and don't know when I'll be off it, but then again my job was filled in order to maintain grant compliance. I do see the surgeon on Thursday and I'll see what will happen next, wether it be another fusion, PT or both. Overall I'm pleased that I haven't been floored or put in the fetal position since the surgery, yet (knock on wood).
Maintaining sanity while at home has been a challenge but I've been exploring the vast expanses of the internet, Netflix and the library within walking distance.

Last week I was able to make one class, one intermediate warm up class and a pilates (that was a challenge). I'm working at home as I feel up to it and doing some core strengthening, foot and barre work. I can't wait for the doc to let me go back to classes on a relaxed basis.

That's all for now.
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By pondflyPremium member
On Mon Sep 06, 2010 08:48 PM
I went to the surgeon on the 30th and everything looks good. They said that I can begin to do PT, but to keep it easy for a while as this will take time. The fusion looks good, no broken hardware and as it sits now, most likely I won't need another fusion, but I'm not too sure on that as the other herniation is just as bad but not as old as the original injury.
I had asked about trying to get off the narcotics and other pain management as I hate being on them and was switched to Ultram, but I've realized that over the period of years and such high doses of meds that I have developed an addiction when I stopped cold turkey. Sleeplessness, which I can't control with my regular sleeping medication, so I've gone on the reduction of dosing in half in a week basis which should take two weeks (I hope).

The PA did say that I can begin fall classes tomorrow, but I have to be very careful and stop if I have any pain, so I'll see how this week goes. All I can say is that I'm going to be behind and sore muscles for a while.
re: Cervical Spinal Fusion- Post your experiences
By toroandbruinmember has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Mon Sep 06, 2010 09:51 PM
Congratulations on getting to the point that you can do PT! Maybe you can coordinate with your physiotherapist on what you can do in ballet that will help you recover faster and what things to stay away from so you don't have setbacks. Hopefully he or she will know at least a little bit about ballet.
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