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Muscle atrophy from pinched nerve (C5 C6 disc)

I have a question for the board and any feedback would be appreciated.
I had an ACDF surgery on April 21, 2014 on C5 C6. Recovery has been going well and have been seeing a physiotherapist 3 times a week to regain mobility and strenght in my left arm (muscle waste/atrophy in shoulder and bicep).
Just had my 2nd follow up appointmet with my surgeon yesterday to which he said my fusion is about 70%. I explained to him that my mobility and range of motion in my left arm is all back but I have no strenght/muscle in my shoulder, thus only elastic band exercise and no weights. My bicep seems to recover a little bit better but not much. He said that time will tell, making me wonder if I will ever regain my muscle strenght back
He has cleared me back to regular work with no restrictions, and even indicated that work might even help with regaining the muscle strenght in those areas.
My question is this: Is it the nerve that is affecting the muscle strenght? Or is the nerve pretty much healed up (thus the full range of motion without any weight of course) and now it's just a matter for the muscle to get stronger?

Thank you in advance


  • Nerve recovery can take up to two years, depending on how extensive the damage is, however, muscle wasting is/may be in part due to the nerve compression and the only way to recover that is to continue to work the muscles and strengthen them.
    I had RSD in my right shoulder, arm, and hand/fingers for over 7 years. I had contractures and atrophy, throughout the entire area.......the only way to regain that was to work at physical therapy and continue to work with strengthening excercises for a year to regain what I had lost, and release the contractures........it wasn't easy so I won't tell you it was, but it was well worth it.
  • Thanks Sandi. I know my surgeon told me after the surgery that my nerve was severely compressed and that it was a good thing they removed the disc when they did. I was not able to lift arm up (shoulder) or contract anything up (bicep) for months. PT has helped a lot since surgery like I said, to the point now I can freely bring arm up and move it freely in any direction but as soon as I hold a weight (approx. 2-3 lbs) I am unable to do it. Same with my bicep except not as bad, maybe 8 lbs. There lies the puzzling question...is it the nerve or the muscle or both at this point? If nerve sends message to muscle to lift arm up and it does so, but as soon as weight is added it can't, isn't it muscle rather than nerve?
  • is to very, very slowly increase the weight........I started by holding a baby bottle for my infant son......literally. In the beginning it took all I had to do it, for a minute, but eventually, I worked up to other things, a can of soda empty at first, then full, then soup cans, etc.... Once a muscle has atrophied, it is difficult , but it can be done, slowly over time.
    A physical therapist might be the best person to guide you, but you can recover the muscle, it is going to take time though.
  • BiagioBBiagio Posts: 14
    edited 08/11/2014 - 12:42 AM
    Thank you so much Sandi
  • sandisandi Posts: 6,343
    edited 08/26/2014 - 8:16 AM
    Anytime........the key is to work slowly and steadily. Muscles that atrophy start contracting, so it's really important to slowly stretch them, and begin slowly and work steadily.....when it gets easy to handle the empty stuff, then add a little water to whatever you are using, so it gives it a little weight........Listen to the fatigue that will occur but manage it by taking short breaks, then resuming the weight. Smaller numbers of weights but repetitions help over time, rather than more weight and less repetition.......does that all make sense?
  • I also had an ACDF C5/C6, mine on April 10, 2014, so very close time-wise to Biagio. I've been working with a Physical Therapist since July and have two appointments remaining. Sandi, you wrote to move the weight up slowly, but I think my PT guy is moving things too fast. (In part, because he knows I need to regain the ability to carry my 18-lb dog without causing a major flare-up each time.) He has me on the hand-cycle and using free weights and elastic bands, carrying a metal crate with a 20-lb weight in it, etc. I had appointments Tues and Thurs this week and today, I am miserable. My hands were feeling a lot better earlier this week (tendons less swollen, etc.), but today, they are really bad again. My arms and upper back are tight and everything feels like it's not working right. Should I expect such flare-ups after PT or is my PT guy pushing me TOO hard? If the latter, will it hurt anything long-term or just make me miserable for the time-being and then it will ease up and I'll feel better?
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