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C4-7 Fusion - but why head/face symptoms?

MargoMMargo Posts: 4
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:50 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hi, all! I am a survivor of 2 fusions, the second of which I'm still recovering from. The first was T11-L1 and this last one was C4-7.

My question is regarding the face and head symptoms. From everything I read, those kinds of symptoms only happen with C1 & C2 problems. But the day after the surgery my head & face already felt tons better, although now, 2 weeks after the surgery, I still get some symptoms when I'm tired, etc.

My physical therapist says that there are some nerves that loop down from the head to C4, but I can't find anything else about this. All I know is I had these symptoms and now they're much better, after the surgery. My head/face symptoms included:

* numbness, mostly lower half of face, but sometimes all my face or even whole head

* occasional dropping of my jaw accompanied by gasp of air; this happened when I'd been talking a fair amount

* facial swelling

That's all I can remember right now. I'd appreciate some explanation about how I could have those symptoms when the problem in my neck was at C4-7. I had other lower body symptoms too, but that seems pretty clear, so I don't have any questions about those, and that's not counting the horrid pain I had in my neck.

Thanks for any help in understanding this.



  • Hi Margo, welcome to Spine-health. I'm still thinking about what it is that could be causing/caused your symptoms, but in the meantime I was wondering.. had you had a fair share of ESIs or other injections/blocks/treatments?

    Often we attribute our symptoms to the current or pressing medical issue or surgery, but this is not always the cause, and these symptoms might be something unrelated, or maybe they are associated with both the C-spine *and* some types of medications for instance.

    I'm sure other members will give you more insight and answers that may help you sort this out, but until then there is a lot to be gleaned in the articles on the site too. I have learned a lot here myself. Welcome.

  • First of all, thanks to "alwaysstaystrong". I had 3 epidural shots just prior to the surgery, but that was because the neck pain was so bad. The first shot lasted about 3 days, the second one about 2 1/2 weeks, and the third one started wearing off a couple days before the surgery - it lasted about 5 weeks. My neck symptoms just started in Sept. '10 but in hindsight, I think there were symptoms back to at least July '10 that I (and the doctors) didn't now were or might be connected to the neck stenosis (because we didn't realize there was a neck stenosis yet).

    The answer I found is the cervical complex. I think that's what my physical therapist has been referring to when she says that there are nerves that loop down from the head and C4 is the cutting off point.

    I guess I wasn't using the right search terms to find this info out before but when I found it last night, the information did say that the Cervical Plexus goes to C4. The scariest thing I found was that at C4 there's a nerve (phrenic nerve) that activates the diaphragm for breathing, that if cut leads to immediate death (because of not being able to breathe). From what I can read, damage to that nerve can lead to lesser symptoms. And apparently C3 and C5 also contribute some to this phrenic nerve, but C4 is the main one.

    One of my symptoms that I had occasionally when talking for any length of time was my jaw sort of opening and a gasping of air, like I was sucking in. Now that I read this about the phrenic nerve it seems more scary.

    After the surgery 1/13/11 the neuro-surgeon said they weren't sure the symptoms to the head would be healed (it was a C4-C7 diskectomy and fusion). The MRI, CT and X-ray had only shown abnormalities at C5-C7, and before the operation the neurosurgeon had planned to do C5-7 (another neurosurgeon had planned C5-6). I was certain that my head symptoms were from the neck, but absent imaging evidence higher than C5, some doctors were skeptical.

    I guess there must have been some damage then to the cervical plexus.

    Thankfully, so far the surgery seems to have been successful, but 3 weeks out I still feel like the head symptoms are a bit tenuous - appearing especially when I'm tired. I rest a lot when I feel them coming on, hoping that lying down will help the healing process so that eventually these symptoms will be at least mostly gone.

    I wish the surgery would have been done earlier though. I think there wouldn't have been so many problems.
  • Thank you for that information Margo, I find that very interesting as I have issues along my C-4 to C-7. I struggle to talk at times, as if it's an effort. This has been going on for several yrs, but the ENT thought it was something else. After an operation on my voice box it isn't any better, but more damage was done to the C-spine during the operation because of the positioning of my head for the surgery-lol, sometimes we just make things worse trying to make things better.......haha. I haven't been back to the OR since.

    I'm glad your research efforts lead you to find some answers. Sometimes just knowing can ease our minds enough to deal with the rest.
  • HI Margo,

    Welcome to spine-health. Good to hear your on the other side of surgery. As someone fused from c3-c7 I can appreciate what your going through. It is okay to still be tired as your body has gone through major surgery. Just be sure to listen to your body and understand you might hit some bumps in the road for recovery. Your body will take sometime to recovery, so if you have a bad day don't feel so bad about it. But of course always call your doctor for any drastic changes.

    Here is another thought as to what is going on with your face. Myofascial pain syndrome, which if you were having muscle spasms bad enough most certainly could have done it. Here is a link to the video which explains it better. Just something else to think about. Once again welcome to spine-health.

  • Hi Margo And Hi to Tamtam been a while since I was here, have been going through more surgeries and healing myself. I have had 6 surgies on back one lower the rest all on neck. My symptoms come and go a lot.
    Had c3 -c7 lots of screws near the bottom have screws proping both sides of spine to allow the fluid to get through, stenosis was so bad the spine was badly pinched. I still have symptoms from that. Hand and leg probs. then L5-S1 fusoin, helped for a couple years but no longer, back to same pain. Then they put a plate in my neck, more screws. Then last year my Neurosugeon sent me to another neurosureon,saying he would be best for me. that had me scared.
    So I end up having the plate and screws removed. Then the next day they put in a rod but while in there they found my neck was broke in 2 places, so the next day they had to reposition the rod that had to go from C2-C7 and had a halo put on.
    He said I was lucky (ha) Said if it had been any higher they couldnt have done it because they couldnt go higher than C2. I didnt feel lucky as I was promised no brace would be needed after. I was thrilled, I have had about everyone there is I think. Then I wake up with this halo on and went bazerk! I am also clostraphobic (i dont know how to spell that) So I was going crazy in that, a lot of pain and lost my the use of my hand.
    I lost all use of left hand for months..couldnt move or feel it at all, just dead. Thank God 3 months later got a lot of it back but am still having trouble. They did a second carple tun surgery on that hand last month to see if it could help me a grip back I use a cane and walker most times and have to grip them right? I have more feeling but still have no grip power. Well I fell a couple weeks ago and now have fractued T 12 feel like my ribs are broken. SO much fun. I have no idea what is giving me the facial symptoms due to all the surgies.....I get numbness in face bottom half and head also, cold numbness if that makes sence. And a lot of muscle spasms too as Tamtam said. How long ago was your surgery??

    I wish you the best.I am sorry I have no answers either, but I wanted to tell you i understand those symptoms and i am truely sorry you have deal with it. My very best wishes and prayers to you. This is the best place! So welcome!
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