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Pain after acdf

Hi all,

I would like to ask this question which I have asked on the forum many times but never really get any answers for.  I had a two level fusion about three years ago.  Overall the surgery went well and my arm nerve pain was relieved.  Now after the first year I have terrible pain across my upper back everyday.  It feels like horrible achy muscles.  Like I did a hundred push ups or something strenuous.  I ache from shoulder to shoulder and from neck down to about one third of my upper back.  I have tried pain meds, muscle relaxers, tens unit, otc meds and I never get any lasting pain relief.  This terrible achiness just stops me from doing to many things everyday. 

I would really like to hear from others who have had an acdf if possible.  I have many other issues that are spine and non spine related but would like to eliminate this one problem if I could





  • WLLadyWLLady Ontario CanadaPosts: 1,486

    Hi dmo

    I didnt have acdf...sorry.....but i am 2 years post t10 to s2/pelvis fusion.  I just had my followup and was told we can still be healing for up to 5 years post surgery.  Have you talked with your doctor about the pain?  A lot of my pain now is muscular and my surgeon is booking trigger point injections to see if that will help because the pain can certainly get bad enough to stop ke from living my life effectively!  My best friend when it happens is my heating pad....

    I hope you and your doctor can find out what the cause is, and figure out something to do about it. If its muscular would physiotherpapy help?  

    Veritas-Health Moderator
    Dec '16 T10-S2 fusion with pelvic fixation. Laminectomies L2, L3, L4, L5, facet removal, cages L4-5, L5-S1, severe scoliosis, arthritis and stenosis repair. 

  • dmo- I had a 3 level ACDF a little over a year ago, I am presently having a lot of the symptoms that you are, I recently underwent a myelogram that showed spinal stenosis and 3 bone spurs pushing on the spinal cord, I was convinced that I would need another surgery, went to the doctor Thursday and to my surprise was told no surgery, doctor said bone spurs were caused by instability before surgery and would reabsorb given time, he did not think the stenosis was as bad as the radiologist stated, on physical exam he discovered I had bursitis in my right shoulder an gave me an injection, could this be part of your problem? He also said that it is fairly common to have the tightness and pain between shoulders and I may need some trigger points or a epidural to help. I think I would contact my surgeon and have your symptoms checked, hopefully it will be something similar and not that big of a deal. Good luck

    Veritas-Health Moderator

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  • Hi Kathy,

    I would like to take the time to say hello.  I have spoken to all of the moderators here but have not had the pleasure of speaking with you.  I have tried many different kinds of injections but have had very little luck.  I was trying to do my own research and from what I gather after an acdf the muscles try to adjust to the way the neck is less mobile after fusion.  I guess I am just going to have to live with the way I am now.  The muscle stiffness wakes me at night and without meds I cant get back to sleep.  Your fusion sounds as if it was also very difficult.  I need a lumbar fusion but have put it off because I did not care for how my cervical fusion turned out.  I see you are from Ontario Canada.  I would never survive there with it being so cold.  I hate getting up in the mornings because I am so cold natured.  The cold makes me ache so much.  Thankyou for your advice and kindness. 

    Hi Challenger,

    I have also not had a chance to speak with you.  As you are the newest moderator I am happy to meet you.  I had xrays which showed my c4 disc does not align with my fusion area of C5-C7.  I also have central canal stenosis but am not sure how much of a factor this is.  My shoulders do not hurt but the area right behind my shoulders on both sides hurt.  It goes from the back of one shoulder to the back of the other shoulder.  After looking at information available on Spine Health I also learned the biggest complain most people have after an acdf is pain across upper back.  Interesting to me and for you if you are bothered by this.  Let me ask you do you have this achy type pain across your upper back?  It feels like I have sore muscles from exercising to much.  It gets worse at night when I sleep and eventually will wake me if I do not take my pain meds.  Thank you for your advice and kindness also. 


  • dmo- I do have  the achy muscle type pain that you are talking about, what is upsetting to me is for the first 6 months after surgery I really did not have this, I have recently gotten better about doing the exercises that the PT had given me, I hope I start seeing the benefits from that also. I am sorry to hear that you need a lumbar fusion, I have had 2 fusion surgeries myself, luckily both went very well and relieved a lot of the pain I was having, I will tell you it is a rough surgery and a long recovery, but they were worth it for me and I feel very lucky because I have heard the horror stories also. I hope that your doctor can figure out what is causing your pain soon and offer you some help.


    Veritas-Health Moderator

  • Chip,

    I also did not experience this achy type pain until 6 months to one year post op.  I thought the surgery went well and was really surprised I ended up with this type pain.  As its been over two years now since the surgery I believe this is going to be the new me.  I have enough other issues in my life so was hoping to not have this also.  Thank you for your kindness and support.  Could you possibly describe the types of exercises you are doing?  Also have you been doing them for six months without improvement?  I hope things turn around for you soon.


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  • nutcase007nnutcase007 United StatesPosts: 920

    dmo - Did you discuss your symptoms that showed up six months post-op with your surgeon? 

    After my second ACDF, my surgeon warned me that it could take 18 to 24 months to heal.  It felt like I was getting better after surgery, but then things turned bad after five months post-op for me.  Found out at nine months post-op that I have a massive osteophyte below  my C3/C4 fusion level and then it turned into adjacent disc failure at C4/C5.

    Have you had any imaging since you started having problems at six months post-op?

  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 13,526

    Dale, I had my multi-level ACDFs in 1994 and 2000.  I felt great after both of those surgeries.  Around 2002 I started having discomfort between my shoulders.  As that progressed, I had a bone scan which identified masses of arthritis in all of my joints.

    As time went on, I was more and more uncomfortable, most of the pain came from the base of my neck and and across my shoulders.  But 2005, I had so much difficulty raising my right arm and hand shaking was something I tried to avoid.

    Through varioius diagnostic tests, Osteoarthritis had started deteriorating my shoulder joints.  I had steroid injections for about 4 years and finally in 2010, my shoulder joint was total bone on bone and additional steroids were not going to help.   I had completed total shoulder replacements in 2010, April my left shoulder and October my right shoulder.  After a long grueling recovery process, I was much better.

    One of the first things I noticed, was the pain at the base of my neck was gone, as was the shoulder pain.   My physical therapist noticed how much straighter my upper posture was.

    Not saying Osteoarthritis could be your situation, but its easier enough to diagnose

    Ron DiLauro Veritas-Health Forums Manager
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences 
  • Thank you both Ron and Nutcase.  I did have some imaging done over a year ago which showed C4 did not align with my fused area of C5-C7.  I have had many drs tell me I have arthritis in my neck pretty bad also.  My pain management dr does not hesitate to give me both long acting and short acting pain meds.  She knows I am really suffering these days.  Let me say also I know everyone here is in pain also so my pain is not comparable to everyone here.  To be honest this week end has been the worst for me.  I passed two kidney stones Saturday morning then was back in the ER again Sunday night with yet another one.  My CT scan shows numerous stones but no one could give me an accurate count.  I passed my last stone at about 4am this morning. 

    Heaven help me I hope I am finished.  I feel like a large truck has run me over.  I am taking my pain meds but my bladder feels so very sore.  My spine pain is taking a back seat for a while.  I guess I should set up new imaging for my neck and see what is going on but I have my cancer to deal with the end of this month also. 

    Again thank you all so much for the help.  Pain just withers the soul. 


  • dmo- As you know it would be against forum rules for me to tell you the exercises, if you were in PT after your surgery you might want to check with your therapist and see if they will give you certain things to do. I hope you are thru with the kidney stones, I had 2 several years ago and I feel your pain, luckily I have not had any more since those 2, and I hope I never do. I hope you find the right things to help with your pain.


    Veritas-Health Moderator

  • Thank you kind sir.  I shall do this very thing at the first opportunity. 


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