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Muscle wasting - Is it permanent?

TonyDiscTTonyDisc Posts: 26
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:42 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery

I am 16 days post op for a C5-6 posterior microdiscectomy.

I think that my arm is feeling a bit better, a little less heavy. What I am wondering now is: The muscles that wasted away somewhat during the 2 months before surgery.... Do they come back? I think they must have some function because I have full ROM and I can use the arm against weights although nowhere near as strong as before. But the muscles have definitely shrunk alot compared to my normal arm. If the muscles are working, does that mean they will come back? Or is the shrinking permanent?




  • A friend of mine's calf muscle wasted before she had surgery and has never returned to the size it was before. I would ask your surgeon though for a more definitive answer.

    Best wishes,

  • Hey Tony! They should come back. The muscles atrophied because the nerve that supplies that muscle was being compressed. By having surgery, the nerve was freed.

    The bigger question is how long will it take. No one can really give you a cut and dry answer because there are so many variables, how long it was compressed, severity, etc. You are only 16 days post op, so patience is the key. Once you are cleared for Pysical or Occupational therapy (depending on the state you live in) you can begin to strengthen your arm and rebuild the muscles. The good news is that muscles have memory, so it won't take as long to rebuild!

    Hang in there and good luck~Shari
  • Thanks marirlpn.

    Do you know how long your friend went without surgery? I'm hoping that since I was only two months waiting for surgery, I have a better chance of recovering the muscle. Although to be honest it doesn't somehow seem like it will, I am only going by instinct however.

  • Thanks jayhawk. did you have a similar experience with muscle wasting?

    I've been told my nerve has been freed up, although I dont really feel much difference, but realise it is still early days. I was hoping that i would feel a difference immediately but i guess that was unrealistic.

    What do you mean by saying that muscles have memory?


  • Hiya! The easiest way to explain muscle memory is to give you an example. You know the first time you blow up a balloon, it's hard, but each time after that it is alot easier because the balloon has stretched and held air.

    That is the analogy with building muscle. When you initially build muscle fiber, you have to make small tears in the muscle belly (by lifting weights/moving against gravity)etc. As the muscle repairs itself, it becomes bigger. After this has happened the initial time, it doesn't take as much effort to build that muscle.

    Yes, it has happened to me. This is my third lumbar spine surgery. All of them were for the motor(muscle) component of the spinal cord. All three times the L4-5 nerve was being compressed. In addition to leg weakness, I had drop foot. I am less than 3 weeks post op and already I can bend my ankle up. :).

    My husband had cervical fusion. His, like yours, happened quickly. He had arm weakness and numbness. He regained (through Occupational therapy)his strength and coordination.

    In addition to this happening to me and my husband, I am also an Occupational Therapist. :) Hang in there, I know it is hard to be patient. But, patience really is the key! Take Care and let us know how it is going! Shari
  • Like Marianne's friend, I too have a calf that has shrank from the nerve being compressed by L4-L5.
    I lost about an inch and a half diameter on it.
    The nerve was compressed about 9 months before surgery. It has not come back to the size it was before.
    To be fair, I have not done any muscle building on that calf.
    I feel no noticeable effects or weakness or limitation. Feels totally normal.
    On the sunny and mild Central Coast of California

    L4-L5 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy June, 2007
    L5-S1 endoscopic transforaminal microdiscectomy May, 2008
  • Thanks very much for your reply.

    I was not assigned to a PT, but am exercising myself. I start swimming today, and have been doing small weights at home. Your balloon analogy helped me visualize what you meant, thanks. SO I guess its just a matter of keep exercising until the muscle finally kicks in and starts to grow.

    Thanks again, i will get back to you when i make some progress.


  • oh by the way jayhawk, what exactly is an occupational therapist? Is that like a PT?
  • oh by the way jayhawk, what exactly is an occupational therapist? Is that like a PT?
  • I lost 2-3 inches in my right leg. It started out an inch bigger than my left and now it's smaller. I do a lot of PT and work and nothing is changing - but... I still have nerve damage (it happened post-op, I lost the feeling in part of my right leg.

    I don't expect that mine will get any better - not as long as my nerves are on the fritz. I do think things would be worse if I wasn't fighting it every inch (literally) of the way!

    If you've got nerves back and you just had the atrophy while they were being affected, then I would think that you can build your wasted muscles back up.
  • how long ago was your op? What did the doc say happened, did he tell you he accidentally damaged the nerve, or was it a mystery?

    Good luck with your PT. One thing I dont understand yet is the whole nerve healing process, in fact i might make a new post.


  • SpineAZSpineAZ WiscPosts: 1,084
    An Occupational Therapist deals with fine motor skills such as grasping, pinching, writing, etc. Physical Therapy deals more with gross (large) motor skills (muscles and body parts such as legs, arms, etc).

    When I was doing PT for my neck/back this summer there was a woman who had a leg injury in a car accident. She was doing OT and PT for the leg. PT was all of the typical things to build muscle (bike, straightening and lifting the leg, etc). The OT she did was where they placed marbles on the floor and she had to attempt to grasp one with her toes and put in in a paper cup on the floor (because of multiple surgeries and casting/bracing she had lost much of the ability to manipulate her toes as we all do in a normal day). OT is also common post-stroke or post-quadriplegic injury when people have to learn to re-tie shoe laces, button and snap clothing, handle forks/knives/spoon, etc. That would also usually also involve PT for the larger muscle groups

    So OT and PT can be done together. In people who have has cervical spine/nerve issues and have weakness or muscle wasting in fingers/hands they'd do OT for that and PT for the whole arm structure.

    2 ACDFs, 2 PCDF, 3 LIFs; Rt TKR; Rt thumb fusion ; Lt thumb arthroplasty; Ehlers Danlos 
  • Hi, everyone. I have been a "member" for awhile but I have yet to introduce myself. I have been waiting for surgery for over 10 years. I have suffered greatly. I have extremely muscle wasting, when I was in prime physical shape. It's disgusting. I am a size 2-4 but----I'm all flab.
    I hope to have surgery soon. They told me to wait because it was so bad. That once they started surgery they would keep having to open me up and to wait.
    I had no idea this would happen and I am so embarrassed to even have the docs and nurses see me when I have surgery.

    I will take steroids, peptides look promising to me.
    Does anyone know what I can do???
    C4-5 and C5-C6 spinal cord compression, and degeneration seen at most levels, mild kyphosis and disc protrusion@C3-4. Spinal cord flattened at C4-5 w/severe narrowing of C5 and C6 root canal w/cord being forced into the lamina. 3-level.
  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 9,856
    Please provide us with more details. Take a look at our FAQ, we explain to members the information that they can provide so that other members can respond to their questions.
    Ron DiLauro Spine-Health System Administrator
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences
    You can email me at: rdilauro@veritashealth.com
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