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Spinal Fusion Gone Wrong

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,578
edited 06/11/2012 - 7:34 AM in Neck Pain: Cervical
On April 16th I underwent a double discectomy and spinal fusion involving C5-6 and C6-7. The symptoms up to the surgery were considerable pain and numbness from the left shoulder down to the thumb and index finger. Even Oxycodone didn't really dull the pain and surgery was not really "elective."

Shortly after the surgery I noted a new numbness, tingling and pain in both hands - not just one hand anymore - and involving the 4th and 5th finger on both hands, as well as the heel of both hands. The orthopedic surgeon told me that the surgery was fine but now I probably have carpal tunnel syndrome (that I didn't have before surgery.) He had me see an associate at his practice that did a EMG.

That test revealed that there is an issue with C7. It is not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. One particular nerve measured at the elbow fires non-stop, "like the sound of an 800cc Harley..." The surgical site remains swollen, inflamed and painful.

I got a DVD with all of my x-rays and want to seek a third opinion. I understand that 1) stuff happens, and 2) malpractice requires negligence; breach of standard of care, etc. I don't have another $40k to spare. Considering the orthopedic surgeons dismissal of the symptoms I am concerned as to what I should do. I would hate to dampen a doctors career but it seems that he made matters worse and seems so casual about it. I cannot work much of the time and the neck pain continues along with the hands. My work requires office work, sitting, and use of a computer.

I am not sure what to do.


  • I do hope you get the help you need. This is not fun.

    Good Luck!

  • with how you are doing physically and if you get a 3rd opinion and what they have to say. Best of luck and healing....
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  • Hi Bob,
    First let me say welcome to spine-health. Look around and you will find some very good articles in regards to what you are dealing with. That bites your surgeon is not willing to look for what has happened. I Might mention to you if you are not aware, one of the risk of surgery, I signed off on was the need for future surgery and the possibility that I could be worse and or have no change. Not sure what your other disc looked like going into surgery, although not common it is possible that surgery can cause another level to become symptomatic if it wasn't prior to surgery. With that being said it is possible while that level is symptomatic it can be relieved with conservative treatments. I think a myelogram would be your best bet to see how bad it is at this point and time, along with checking the fusion itself. I am no doctor in this is clearly through my experience, as someone who has gone through surgery and had some poor outcomes with 5 of them behind me now.

    I didn't see if you had returned to the surgeon following the emg study and his answers as to what to do. I noticed you said getting a third opinion, which is a good idea. Sometimes a new set of eyes can shed some light on the situation. Keep in mind that not many surgeons like messing with something that has already been operated on. Do your homework and be sure the surgeons are not affiliated in anyway. I think surgeons get as upset as we do when it doesn't work out as they intended. They don't like to have failed surgeries either. I had often wondered why they didn't look at the adjacent levels while doing surgery. It is now my understanding that is easier said than down.

    What type of bone grafting material was used in your surgery ie cadaver, bmp or something else. It is also my understanding that emg studies can only get within a level of the pain. I as you had the same thing happen and ended having another level eventually added into the fusion. Unfortunately there is damage to the nerves themselves so the pain will never go away. Surgery is only part of the solution and i can certainly understand your frustrations at this point and time. Hang in there and hopefully you will get some answers soon and know your options.

    Welcome to spine health and keep us posted on what happens and what your choices are. Good luck.
  • I understand how frustrated you are and how everything is not like you expected it to be. Unfortunately this is a possibility when it comes to back surgery- you either come out of it with flying colors or you wind up with more problems and more pain.

    I went through this twice after both my surgeries. When I woke up from a microdiscectomy, the pain in my leg was still there. I was told that I would wake up basically pain free and walk around and even go home the same day. Not so; my pain persisted and got worse and I ended up reherniating the same disc 1 month post op. With my fusion, the pain still persisted and I felt worse off. I ended up with scar tissue growing on the nerve roots at each operated disc level (L4-5 and L5-S1). This added to the chronic lower back pain I already had, and by then the sciatica was in both legs. I also have permanent nerve damage in one leg.

    I understood the risks before I had surgery and I came to understand how it really is with back surgery and chronic pain by reading other people's experiences here. My surgeon did tell me that I would either feel better, stay the same, or get worse before I had surgery. I decided to go ahead with it because my pain was nonstop and severe, and my quality of life was unacceptable to say the least. My surgeon did a good job and fixed what he could despite my back being such a mess.

    With all these experiences, I still have hope another option will help me. It's so not over yet. It really does help to maintain a positive attitude and not give up. There is always something that can be done. Take care
  • I had a revision of my ACDF just 5 months after the first surgery. While I can't go into the details of my case I was lucky to have found another surgeon to clean up the mess.

    Just a thought: Sometimes when nerves are healing the pain can actually increase during the process. Your EMG, which btw I have found to be less than accurate, show that you're having problems with a level that was operated on, am I right? This could be part of your healing process. I'd go back to your surgeon and give him a chance to explain the increased pain one more time as well as the EMG results and, if you're still not satisfied, seek another opinion...if you can get another surgeon to treat you.

    Feel free to PM me if you like. I know your frustration and feel for you. I'd be happy to help in any way I can.

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