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Is cervical fusion as painful as Lumbar fusion? I am scheduled 4/8

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,322
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:29 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Has anyone out there had both a lumbar and a cervical fusion? How do they compare? I have had two lumbar fusions, ten years apart, the first one with donor bone, which failed, left a mess so I had it redone with pedicle screws in Sep 07. Now I am dealing with two herniations at C5-6 and C6-7 with Osteophyte complex, contact with the cord, causing neurological problems and my doc says he must fuse to stabilize my spine. I am dealing with so much neck and shoulder pain now but wondering how the recovery will be compared to what I went through with the lumbar. I have knee buckling and numbness in my fingers. I hear that a lot of people end up sleeping in a recliner after cervical fusion but after a lumbar fusion sitting for long periods of time is impossible for me. It is hard for me to accept I have a new area in my spine that is needing surgery.
Thanks in advance for your help. Maryann


  • I had C5/6 and L4/5 fusions done last year. The cervical fusion was much easier to deal with, though I did have a lot of pain in my shoulder and arm after for a little while. The cervical fusion has been very successful and I forget at times that I even had it done.

    I didn't need to sleep in a recliner.

    We all recover differently, but I would say that definitely from my experience, the cervical fusion was sooooooo much easier to recover from.

    Good luck on your upcoming surgery.
  • I haven't had a lumbar fusion but will be in May and I have had a Cervical Fusion.Two things resonate with me. First is the anesthesia issue. Check to see if you are allergic to it. Turns out after 21 surgeries (lots of joint problems) they discovered the reason I had a hard time coming out was due to allergic reaction. Most docs won't admit this to be a problem as only about .1 percent of people really are. They switched my anesthesia and I have done wonderfully since. The cervical fusion was like everyone elses post. My arm, shoulder and neck were so bad that there were days I could only roll around on the floor. After the surgery I was up and walking almost pain free the next day and out of the hospital in two days. Have been pain free for a year since. Best surgery I have gone through by far with a great result. I never had to sleep in a recliner. Bought one of those contour pillows and I still use it. Worked great for me.

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  • Um... not always easier.

    One thing to note, c-spine is riskier because you have a spinal cord to worry about getting damaged (no cord in lumbar area), and the spaces between the vertebral bodies are very tight. Please don't pass cervical spine surgery off as easy. This is SPINE SURGERY. It is never something to take lightly.

    Surviving chronic pain one day at a time, praying for a reprieve because living another 40 years like this doesn't sound too fun!
  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 13,304
    no how do you like that for an answer!!!!

    Now, I am not talking about the actual procedure that the doctors have to perform, I am looking at it from the patients point of view and that is after surgery and the recovery period.

    I am not sure of any formal statistics, but just going on the members here on Spine-Health, I would give Cervical surgeries as being the easier of the two.

    I have had 2 cervical surgeries and 4 lumbar surgeries. I had much better success with the cervical ones. I was out of the hospital sooner, the original pain that prompted the surgery disappeared faster and the recovery was easier and quicker.

    But I know two members here who can write books to reverse what I just said.

    Given the procedures are the same, the doctors have the same skill levels, etc, so much depends on the patients ability to recover. Some can do it faster than others.

    Ron DiLauro Veritas-Health Forums Manager
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences 
  • I am very glad that all of you who had cervical surgery have done very well post-op.
    My doctor told me Cervical surgery "Will be a piece of Cake" It was and still is anything but that. I am now six months post-surgery and still having swallowing problems. I hope to hear from my GI Doctor tomorrow about an EMS test done last Wednesday.
    I am happy for all of you. Will keep all updated. Thanks! for all of your prayers.
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  • You are not alone. I think there are more "out of the norm" cases than doctors want to acknowledge. I could list a dozen or more on this site who went into this cervical spine surgery being told by their doctors that they will return to work in a matter of weeks, but have had an EXTREMELY difficult time with recovery. They/we are not whimpy people with no determination to get well. We are the unfortunate ones who have had just as serious of a time with recovery as some of the lumbar cases. We are people who had successful careers, people from all walks of life. From scuba divers to entreprenuers to realtors to people in sales to stay at home moms. Some wealthy, some poor. No one can really predict the success of any spine surgery, and while doctors can go in and decompress nerve roots, they can't guarantee you will get better.

    I don't mean to place doom and gloom here, and normally I don't get heated, but this one touches a nerve with me because here I sit 2.5 years later, with continued neck issues. It seems that too many people (myself included) go into neck surgery thinking it will be easy, when in fact far too many of us have a very difficult time. I wouldn't wish this one anyone. Just please have your eyes opened when you go into hte surgery. Hopefully you'll be one of the lucky ones.

    Okay, enough of my vent. Peace to all.
    Surviving chronic pain one day at a time, praying for a reprieve because living another 40 years like this doesn't sound too fun!
  • Well, you get to hear both sides here that is the good thing. I think that it is also true that there are more people on this site that have had complications than people that haven't. It is the nature of humans to move on when all goes well and to look for solace when it doesn't. Suffice it to say that the odds are in your favor that things will go well and the possibility that it won't is always there. Isn't that life, though? The odds are in our favor that we will live life just fine but those of us on this site have learned that it is not always so...

  • Thanks for your responses. I guess it is best to hear the good, bad and the ugly and then try to go in to surgery with a positive attitude. I wasn't given much of a choice with this one, just too risky to leave my c-spine the way it is. I did ok in recovering from the lumbar surgery once I got out of the hospital. I just keep thinking that I am going to close the chapter on spinal surgery and then some new problem pops up.
  • I had posterior lumbar fusion surgery some years before having the anterior cervical fusion surgery. They are both very different, but have their own set of pains, etc..

    My cervical spine fusion involved having to remove most of the main body of one vertebrae (corpectomy) and replacing it with a chunk of bone from my hip. So, I don't know if my situation would be comparable to what you will have done. My fusion involved C4/C5/C6 vertebrae. I have a metal plate and screws fastening it all together.

    Swallowing after this surgery is difficult, and the voice had some problems. Those things did improve with time.
    I had really intense spasms in the muscles at the side of my neck for many months afterwards. I was not give muscle relaxers, but that might have helped if I had been given them. I heard that many people experience that same problem.

    It was hard to lay in bed.......could not lay on my side at all, as it would push my shoulder into my spine and was very painful. I would kind of roll onto my back after getting into bed, and using a good down-filled pillow, I would push the pillow into a shape that would totally support my head and keep my head nice and straight. I had to wear the cervical collar, even to bed, so that also held my neck secure.

    The pain levels for both my lumbar and cervical spine fusion surgeries was about the same in intensities, but were different in type.
    I felt that my lumbar fusion pain lasted longer and since it affected walking, laying, sitting, standing, etc, it was a bit harder to handle. The cervical fusion pain was not easy, but if I had to compare difficulties, the cervical fusion was somewhat less difficult for me.

    I wish you well with your surgery. And remember to take one hour at a time, then one day at a time, and then one week at a time.
    (also, that "this too shall pass" =words my pastor told me as I went though all the fusion surgeries over the years........and he was right.)
  • Thank you so much for your reply. When I read "This Too Shall Pass" I smiled because my Dad always said that to me and now he is in Heaven so it brought tears to my eyes.
    Very few people can relate to my journey, except for the contacts I have made on this site. Lately when people hear I am going in for a cervical fusion they look puzzled and ask "I thought it was your back that was bad?" Yeah, well I guess the misery loves company so now my neck joined in the act. In 1980 when I was 29 and never had a back problem and hurt myself working as a flight attendant I never dreamed I would be facing four back surgeries and a cervical fusion in my future. You would think I would be an old pro by now and not afraid but for some reason I am more afraid about the cervical than anything they ever did to my back. One of the reasons is that I am always as sick as a dog coming out of anesthesia and from what I hear I will have a sore throat so the idea of throwing up in that condition is so frightening. The other thing that scares me is that most patients say it is easier to sleep in a recliner after cervical fusions but with my back issues that would be impossible.
    I must also share that back in August, before I knew how damaged my C-spine was I went to a chiropractor because my neck and shoulder, biceps were in so much pain after a fall I took. He never took an Xray, or an MRI, get this:
    The way he checked to see if there was cervical involvement was by pushing straight down on my head! I yelped in pain and tears rolled down my cheek. The pain was blinding. He just said "YEP, you've got a cervial problem you should have checked out". After that, all the real doctors told me I was lucky he didn't put me in a full stroke since my spinal cord is compressed. You would think I would know better but since then I have learned never ever let anyone push down on your head like that.
    Tomorrow I do pre-op. Lots of questions for the anesthesia guys!
    thanks! mac
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