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Pain in my hands after ACDF

CharliJCCharliJ Posts: 15
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:53 AM in Neck Pain: Cervical
Hi, I'm 11 weeks post ACDF at C6-C7- I had a titanium cage to replace the prolapsed disc that was compressing my spinal chord. I'm doing pretty well in general- the severe nerve pain I had travelling through my left shoulder blade and down into my left arm went after surgery. This is not to say I am pain free! I still have nerve pain in my hands- on both sides, even though the pain was all left sided before the op. My neck hurts if I do too much but I feel in control of that. The nerve pain in my hands is more worrying...My surgeon made his incision on the right side so I'm imagining there was some right sided nerve compression during the op. I spoke to the registrar at 6 weeks- and had an MRI- he said everything looked good, fusion occurring and the cage in the right place and he said my pain wasn't cervical radiculopathy- it was just my nervous system having a little tantrum and therefore not interesting to him as a surgeon! The pain doesn't seem to be subsiding- even though my actual problem was very acute- I had neck pain beginning in november last year and my operation was in February because I lost function in my left hand at the end of January. I know my nerve damage is slowly improving as my left hand is a little stronger already but this nerve pain in my hands, particularly my right hand is hard to ignore. I am a scriptwriter and typing at my computer is just about the worst thing for my finger pain- so I am not back to work really yet. Did anyone else experience this sort of pain after the operation? I am scared by the idea of chronic pain syndrome- that my nervous system won't tell my brain to switch off the pain signals. I am hoping that I am still very early in the process and eventually this nerve pain will go. All I'm taking for the pain is Amytryptoline at night (I did try Lyrica but felt there was no improvement). I probably haven't persevered with the anti-spasmodic drugs because basically I was sick of taking drugs. I am walking, doing a bit of swimming and taking it easy too. I am a 43 mother of two here in Brighton, UK and I need my hands (don't we all?)! Thanksx


  • Welcome to Spine-Health.

    I can't answer your question, but suspect that your doctor is right - your nerves are ticked off at what they did to you.

    You really are early in terms of recovery from major cervical spine surgery and there are a lot of nerves running through the area.

    I also had almost lost the use of my left arm before my surgery, but it came back almost totally when I woke up afterwards. Try to be patient and measure your recovery in weeks, not days. It's a tough row to hoe, but you'll get through it. I so hope that you find your hand is feeling better soon and don't have to keep worrying about that, but like I said, these things take time.

    Have you discussed PT? I wonder if that might help get things stirring in the right direction...

    Take care,
  • Hi Cathie,
    Thanks for this. Here in the UK we're not offered PT as a matter of course after this surgery. We're just told to walk, walk, walk and discharged at 10 weeks! I think physio is offered for discectomies lower down the spine over here. However I have been seeing a physio privately- so far she has just given me massage and some acupuncture for pain and told me it will take a year for my spine to settle. My surgeon did give me some basic range of motion exercises- but actually my ROM is pretty good (I am overly flexible in general). It's so hard with all this referred pain stuff to remember that the pain in my hands and occasionally my toes is all coming from my neck and whilst it is nothing compared to the pain I had prior to my op it is distressing because I had no pain in these areas on the right side and in my feet until after the op.
    I am taking homeopathic pills- hypericum and calendula to try and soothe my nerves. I may have some acupuncture too at some point. But I take your point that it is a waiting game and I must try and get my head in the right place. My left arm is slower to come back than yours- even though the loss of function was only for a matter of weeks- but I think my cord compression was pretty severe. Interestingly my surgeon and my physio both think that the chiropractic manipulation I had of my neck three weeks prior to my op ( my chiropractor manipulated my neck and released my top rib) probably sent the disc into my cord. Having said that because 5 doctors over here told me my pain was muscular in origin I was doing shoulderstands and headstands every day to try and fix myself, which looking back probably wasn't the most helpful thing to do! I think my days of aggressive yoga are over and I am looking towards pilates as my best bet for helping my spine. My surgeon also said that stenosis can be genetic and the fact that my mother had a fusion operation albeit lower down her back when she was 50 was very significant. She know has scoliosis and crumbling discs and trouble walking- so I want to do anything I can to help my spine. It's difficult recovering from this op when you think of yourself as an athletic person. Long term recovery in general is tough- people assume because the op was successful that I am fine now- and apart from the scar on my neck there are no outward signs. ANYway a long-winded answer- these boards have helped me a lot. My husband worries that reading all the posts here makes me dwell on my pain but I think these boards have given me hope- and a realistic timeframe for my recovery- so thank you.
  • Howdy!

    I'm not a real good example as I've been diagnosed with permanent nerve damage. At any rate, I've had two fusions, and most of my issues were to the right. My right hand constantly hurts, and too goes into cramping fits (all fingers and thumb at times).

    Realistically before they decided my damage was permanent (ps...damage was suspected before my surgery), my surgeon akin ed my hand pain similar to when your leg falls asleep, and starts to wake up - Pain! Nerves heal slowly - approximately 1mm a day. You are still young in your recovery, so hopefully your hands will settle down.

    When mine didn't, I underwent another NCS/EMG to see what was going on, and aside from further confirmation of damage, they gave it a name "Neuropathy". Basically the nerve is 'sick' chronically and sending incorrect signals to the brain. It can take up to a year for the nerves to reach maximum medical recovery, and for some even longer than that.

    Please let us know how it goes.

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.

  • Nice to hear of another member who is in the UK. :H
    Sorry that you are in a condition where you needed to join though.

    I haven't had cervical surgery, mine was on my lumbar spine, but I certainly did have lots of new and strange pains after my surgery. They have mostly settled down now and I think that the things that remain are probably coming from my neck or possibly my thoracic spine.

    Nerves do complain after being disturbed during spine surgery, but hopefully once they calm down, you will start to feel the benefit of the surgery.

    I am interested in who your surgeon was because I am in West Sussex. I will PM you and hopefully you can tell me. I have been referred to a neurosurgeon at Haywards Heath Hospital.

    Looking forward to getting to know you better, and I may have more questions about your recovery as we investigate the cord compression in my neck.

  • How are you doing? Feeling any relief yet? Trying any new treatments?

    Just wondering about you.
  • My surgeon was Mr Sorin Bucur-he is a neurosurgeon and works out of Hurstwood Park, Haywards Heath- which is an excellent specialist neurosurgery unit. I think he did a great job on me as my herniation was very large and there was a teardrop of disc wandering down my spinal cord which he managed to hook out- he was worried he might have to do two levels but he got all the disc out with one level, so I was very grateful to him...

    I'm still suffering with my hand pain. I went back to my doctor and even though I was reluctant to do so I'm starting on Lyrica as I want to break out of this pain cycle. He also talked about referring me to a pain management team if this didn't help. I asked to see a counsellor too- I suppose I'm worried I'll never be pain-free as my mother has been in pain with her spine since she was 50. I'm finding it hard to feel optimistic right now. My only hope is that 12 weeks post-op is very early and my nerves will eventually settle. I know I had no choice with this op- I was losing my left arm and so quickly and the pain made me feel suicidal. I just never envisaged such a long recovery period. What surgeons talk of as feeling back to normal and what I consider back to normal seem to be very different things. Anyway I'll see how I get on with the Lyrica. It would be nice to stop thinking about it all for a while!
  • Hi - I had pain in my hands and elbows beginning 3 months after my surgery. My NS said the same as what others have said here. The nerves were pinched for so long that it is going to take a long time for them to heal. I do have permanent damage in my left hand because when I lost use of it, the NS I went to then (didn't do either of my surgeries) didn't impress me. So I didn't do anything and I was very fortunate it mostly went away. That's why I have nerve damage. The 2nd opinion I got the NS said "If you had walked into my office not able to use your hand you would have been in surgery the next day" This guy did my first surgery, but when I didn't fuse, he blew me off and put me in traction. (the thing you hang over the door with the bag of water) Made my neck worse!!

    I too sit at a computer all day for my job. Anyway, it took about another2 months before the pain went away. Now when I have pain it's the typical from the neck into the shoulder and down the arm. Thank God it isn't all the time!

    Good luck to you!
  • Hi CharliJ,

    I am in Australia. My sister in law and three nieces live in Brighton, so I am familiar with where you are ... I can also understand how you are feeling ( I think )..

    I had my three level ACDF( C4/5, C5/6 and C6/7 ) on 23rd November, 2011. ( 11 weeks ago today ! ).

    I must say that before the surgery, I had no feeling in my right foot, leg, hand and arm and became incontinent as well :''( . I had 3x prolapsed discs and canal stenosis due to degeneration and an accident at work last March ( 2011 ). They used metal cages, screws and plates as the hardware. My op was 7 hours long and the NS had to put my r arm in traction to work on C6/7 ! He mentioned afterwards that he was a bit concerned about my Bracial Plexis ...

    Due to see my NS next Monday ( 13th Feb ). I was very happy when, a few days after the surgery, I was able to feel my hand and foot again which was great! I was in hospital for 8 days. My following few weeks were spent walking , sleeping , resting and doing everything I was told. I have had 2x PT sessions as well, yet very painful.

    I don't feel that I am ' progressing ' as quickly as I would have liked ? maybe I am too impatient ? My nerves were compressed for a long time prior to the surgery .. spinal cord was being comprimised as well. I suppose I should just take each day / week as it comes and be thankful that I'm not like I was before ? However -

    In the last week or so I have had hot ' burning ' pain between my neck and my shoulder blade on the r hand side ! This pain is also travelling down my r arm and I am experiencing pins and needles on and off in arm and hand ! I am frightened . What is going on ? On top of all this, I have developed a really bad itch from all the pain tablets ....you might say that I am a burning , itchy mess atm !Sad

    Ive just typed this , and thats all that I can manage for the time being. Dont know when I can get back to work ... I sit at a computer ALL day ?

    Cant wait to see my NS next Monday ...

    Take care, I will keep you posted.



  • I was wondering how your appointment with the NS went and how you are doing now.

    I hope that things have improved for you.

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