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c5 palsy/arm drop?

BrokebackBobBBrokebackBob Posts: 26
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:54 AM in Neck Pain: Cervical
Developed c5 palsy a few days after surgery last week of ACDF OF 4 5 6. Left arm now in a sling and very painful. not much on this wonderful malady on internet. It might also be call arm drop syndrome.....so this is major set back ...Dr. says it should disappear in maybe 4 or 6 weeks...but then maybe not. Anyone hear of this complication? Arm is useless but hand can grip. And another source of level 6 or 7 pain
Any feedback appreciated


  • Bob,

    I can tell you it happened to me as well. It did take a lot of work to get it to come back and while not perfect and still some weakness in it, it is more useable. Not sure how bad you got it, but it was useless to me in the beginning when it happened, and very hard to deal with. So be patient and possible try one of those gripper balls to work on hand strength. The one thing you should know is it takes a long time for nerves to heal, and I do mean a long time. My surgeon said it can take up to two years for it to come back, and with lots of work was around that time frame I started getting more movement back.
  • Tam
    I feel like I just got punched in the stomach. Frankly I am speechless.I cant seem to find any info on this condition except casual mention on websites. Did you clinical name for this malady? Thank God this is my left arm and I am right handed. I have first post op follow up with surgeon Friday. Neck feels good. Right arm and hands are almost painfree and 95% functional. Left hand has good strength. But nothing between wrist and shoulder works. The only way I can move arm is with assistance from my right arm or to swing it by moving my shoulder or body first. Now I starting to get sharp needle like pains in arm and shoulder. Gotta keep head up but this is low blow. Thanks for information.
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  • I'm going through exactly the same thing. I had my surgery 6 June. The pain today has been unbearable, from my shoulder right down into my hand. I woke up from surgery with this problem, and my surgeon had no idea why. They did an MRI while I was still in the hospital, and he said he didn't see anything that would show why. I just had a 2nd MRI done last night, see a neurologist on the 7th and back to see the surgeon on the 12th for follow-up. I've heard from Tammy and others who have had this, that it takes time. I'm sure that's exactly what the neuro and the ns are going to tell me. I'll be starting physio in the next couple of weeks. Do you find that your bicep is very painful, as well as on the side of your shoulder? I'm also having the worse spasms in my traps. I'm just thankful that at least my hand is still working, so I can at least move my arm with the good one and place my hand where I need to use it.

    Anyways, if I get any answers, I'll let you know, and if you could do the same, I'd appreciate it!! Hope we both heal quickly.
    APROUD CANADIANveteranButNOTa doctor, my thoughts are my own
  • Today is three weeks post op from ACDF c3-4-5. Neck seems to be healing well as no direct pain in neck. A little stiffness. One week since first follow up and c5 palsy is no better in anyway and is still quite painful in clavicle shoulder area and biceps. Muscle is gone from arm and I hold it in a claw shape close to body. The arm is totally useless and just hangs. I going to get Dr to prescribe more oxycodone, maybe PT to stop it form atrophy and a sling. Pain is worse than any presurgical pain. Hoping it will slowly disappear but it is disheartening. Dr said it will go away. I gotta believe. ALternative is not positive. Im 59 I dont understand lack of information ie c5 on internet. No specific PT for it? Just wait is not an option. Bob
  • FYI C5 palsy is still unresolved. I guess thats a good word for it. It has not changed and pain is consistent 7/8 down to 4/5 lowered only slightly when I take gabapentin, baclofen and oxycodone every 4 hours. Added discomfort of having arm just hanging in unnatural position, find body compensating and arm is pulled towards stomach, hand has assumed a claw shape. I keep it in a sling or in my pocket. Free swinging arm is painful and it gets in the way when I try simple chores.
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  • Hi Bob;

    Well, I was to see the neuro last week, and he did an EMG. Turns out it is my C6 nerve causing all the problems. I have severe stenosis at C6/7, which had progressed from the time of my MRI prior to surgery, to the surgery. He didn't operate at that level (was C4/5 5/6) so he didn't see it. Looks like I'm going back for another surgery quickly, my ns said he doesn't want to wait too long, as the nerve damage could become permanent.

    My movement has improved slightly though. Are you going to pt for it? You have to keep that arm moving and bending it, and twisting your arm so the palms of your hands are facing up to keep the muscles from completely spasming. Like you, my pain levels have gone down a little as well.

    Have you gone for any testing, like EMG or another MRI? It would be a good idea to ask for an EMG, they might be able to pinpoint if it is C5 or your C6 that is causing it (or both). They know that mine is mainly C6 because of the little function I do have, are the muscles that C5 follows. I'll pm you the exercises that my pt gave to me to do.

    What did the surgeon say at your follow-up? Keep at 'em to get answers, and a proper action plan, you don't want to leave this for too long without doing anything for it. Good luck, keep us updated!
    APROUD CANADIANveteranButNOTa doctor, my thoughts are my own
  • Bob,

    I have to agree with Kelly, at this point and time they should be doing a emg study and some films to see what is going on. I would stay on your surgeon letting him/her know this needs to be resolved. The longer it goes on the harder it will be to get function back. The emg study will show the obvious if a nerve was damaged in surgery. Typically if that happens the surgeon knows when it happens.
  • Good luck with the pt Bob, I hope it helps and you start seeing improvement soon. Don't give up hope! I'm not sure if I mentioned it earlier, but a friend of mine didn't have any movement until about 3 months after, so it could just take more time for your arm to come back. Keep working hard, and don't give up!

    I've got a little more movement in my forearm, I can bring my hand up to my face with a bit of a struggle, but I can do it. I'm starting to work on lifting it up with a little bit of resistance using my other hand. It's tiring, and hurts, but I keep at it. I'm also able to flex my bicep and tricep a little now, too, but still can't move my upper arm. All in time I guess. Good luck, and hope the pt helps you!
    APROUD CANADIANveteranButNOTa doctor, my thoughts are my own
  • I think I feel better after writing about this experience. Today is 5 months from surgery which means the palsy will be 5 months old next week. An EMG 6 weeks showed 30% of bicep nerve is working and 50% of tricep nerve working. Same test today showed no improvement and doc said probably 4 to 6 months before nerve begins to show improvement. Biceps and triceps are totally wasted. Research says they will reach peak atrophy in 6 months but as long as they are moved and have blood I can rebuild them. I exercise them daily and have a EMS for low voltage muscle stimulation. MRI one month ago shows clear spine. The extent of the palsy is worrysome for the docs and myself. I am hoping to see some improvement after the Holidays.
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