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C4-T4 Fusion: What to expect post operatively

Irish55IIrish55 Posts: 17
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:01 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hello everybody! I am hoping that people who have had spinal fusions from the C4-T4 level will respond to my questions. I am scheduled to undergo this operation as well as an osteotomy at the T-10 level on April 12th, next week. I will be meeting with my surgeon next Monday for pre-op testing and to sign the consent forms, ask questions, etc. In the meantime I'm trying to prepare myself for what to expect once the surgery is over. Some of my concerns are these:
1. Will I be wearing a neck brace once surgery is complete? If so, would it be a hard brace or more likely a soft brace and would I need to wear it 24/7?
2. How much range of motion can I expect to lose by fusing those vertebra? Will I, for example, be able to look over my shoulder to look for oncoming traffic while I'm driving?
3. I've had a dozen surgeries on my spine already but not involving the cervical level. How much post operative pain will I have from surgery on those levels as opposed to the thoracic or lumbar spine?
4. Will I be able to sleep on my back immediately after surgery and once I'm home and in my own bed, or will I be instructed to stay on my side to prevent pressure on my neck?

I really appreciate any comments that you may have. Any tips or suggestions for what I might need in the way of assistance once I get home? Thanks so much!


  • I can see that you have already been versed in fusion surgery so you kind of know the drill. The one thing I would suggest to you is that you get multiple opinions regarding that large of a fusion surgery. Is there a reason they want to fuse so many levels? Will they being doing that surgery from the anterior or posterior approach? What kind of bone grafting materials will they be using? The other issue I see is what is the probability you will fuse on that many levels and what is the time line for healing? If you look in the FAQ section you will find a list of 38 questions to ask a surgeon, see which of those you can answer and I think you will formulate your questions from there.

    As far as will you be able to look over your shoulder? My response would be I seriously doubt it, and your vehicle might need some special mirrors added to it. In general they are locking down the levels of the neck that do most of the movement, so I would doubt you will have much movement at all.

    As far as sleeping on your back, and on a incision I would think you will find a recliner more comfortable. AS far as the post operative pain, each person is different and it depends on the approach. Posterior approaches are more painful and it depends if your using your bone, or what the grafting material is.

    Things you might consider is what type of home health care will you need, how much phsyio they will give you so you can become independent. I would think your looking at a very long recovery from that surgery and I would discuss that as well. I am fused at 4 levels and can tell you that I still live in pain everyday and sometimes the simplist task are very difficult. For example looking at something without support for any time line. Or doing things that involve me looking down, such as preparing meals.

    One thing to keep in mind operating on the cervical or thorasic is more serious as they are working around the spinal cord vs doing lumbar fusions. I like to say when it comes to surgery more with the spine is not necessarily better. I am not trying to scare you from surgery, but to look at where you will be at post surgery with that large of a fusion, and to be sure that all those levels are needed.

    Take a look at those questions and I am sure you will develop a good list to talk over with your surgeon on your upcoming visit.
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