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17 Weeks Post C6-C7 ACDF, 10 Weeks in Brace, Pain after Brace removal

I had my ACDF 17 weeks ago, spent the first 10 weeks in a hard neck brace, Had very little pain after the surgery and everything seemed to go well. At 10 weeks, X-Ray showed very good fusion and the brace came off. I was give no instructions other than not to lift anything more than 30 lbs and no overhead work.

Since the brace came off I have developed more and more neck/shoulder pain each week. There is alot of grinding and popping going on and very difficult to look up without alot of pain. The pain down my arm is better, not gone, and I have alot more strength in my left arm so I feel the nerve is decompressed.

Last week at 16 weeks, X-Ray showed 100% fusion, I was released with no restrictions at all, when I asked about the pain he said some may resolve with time but some may be permanent.

I feel like I am going down the wrong road getting worse each week instead of better, I know 10 weeks in a hard neck brace did alot to the strength of my neck muscles, could all of these just be due to weak neck muscles? If so, when would you expect them to be back to pre-surgery strength.

Please help.

Thanks Dave


  • Dave,

    You are most certainly correct that 10 weeks in a neck brace was not good on your muscles and has more than likely left them very weak. I am not sure if pre-surgery you did some of the conservative type treatments or not, but if so try some of the exercises you learned. You can also look into do some massage therapy, which might help a lot to loosen the muscles up. If you have any muscles relaxers you might try some of them, as well. Dont forget to use heat and ice both at the end of the day or if you can break it up. When you come home from work try to lay down for a short time, to see if that will help with the pain. It is not uncommon that sometimes a dose of roids will help to break down inflammation. If you are fused then you can also use the over the counter NSAID's.

    Last but not least if your surgeon has released you go talk to your primary care doctor explain your situation and see if they can help out with maybe some physical therapy or other routes.
  • Hello Dave!
    I would have to agree that 10 weeks in a hard brace for a 1 level fusion seems like a really long time. I have had 2 fusions, my first was C5-C7 and I was in a hard brace for 6 weeks and this last one was almost 6 weeks ago on C4-5. I was told to keep using the brace for 6 weeks with that one as well but that was only because of my prior fusion, usually it was 3 weeks and I have a friend that had a 1 level fusion done and was only sent home with a soft brace. So every doctor seems to have a different opinion when it comes to braces.
    With my 2 level fusion I had a lot of muscle tightness like you are describing as I was very dependent on my brace and could not hold my head up without it. The doctor did give me a pack of steroids and muscle relaxers to help calm the muscles and I started doing some exercises. After that experience I was adamant that I was not going to depend on the brace the second time around and I was going to do some PT. Look into PT and maybe ask your doctor for some medications to try to help. Good luck!
  • 10 weeks seems like a long time I agree. And also it is apparent that every doctor has their own opinions on the necessity of a neck brace. I had a 3 level fusion with titanium plates and was sent home with no brace at all. My doctor said the braces cause more problems than they stop.

    Massage therapy may help with the pain you are experiencing. You can also look into purchasing a small personal TENS machine to help electrically stimulate the nerves/muscles in the area. I used one of these for years prior to my surgery and they really do help with pain. Also, acupuncture, I know it sounds hokey but it helps.
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