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long term effects of cervical fusion?

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,550
edited 06/11/2012 - 7:19 AM in Back Surgery and Neck Surgery
Hey all,

Still trying to learn about the surgery I just had done after a nasty car accident...

I'm 15 days post-op C4-5 acdf with instrumentation.
I'm only 26 and was wondering what studies have been done, or what people's personal experiences are, with the long-term effects of cervical fusion. Surgeon tells me at 6 months I should be fully recovered and only lose about 8% range of motion. But when I ask about longer term effects on the neighboring disks, etc., he gives wish-washy answers like "technology will be improved by then" etc.
I also was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my thoracic spine when I was 19, but it has not bothered me in a couple years. Now I am wondering if it will come back into play...

Any thoughts? experiences? information sources?



  • Not an easy question to answer. There are so many dependent variables. You could be fine and never have to deal with another surgery again....or....you may have problems with the adjacent disks. There are studies out there, but I'm not sure how conclusive they are. I read something once and I think (key word "think") it said 30%-35% of fusions would result in an adjacent fusion later. My brother had an ACDF at C5-6 when he was 30. At 40 he was having his 2nd ACDF, but now at C4-5. Is that typical? I have no idea. My suggestion is not to worry about it. The best you can do is try to be proactive in your health. Work on core strenthening so that your muscles become a better/stronger support structure for your spine (pilates and yoga are good). Be cautious of what you do....no bungy jumping! :) Trampolines, running(jogging), and other high impact sports are probably not a good idea either.

    Take care.
  • Sounds like it is going to be a struggle to stay proactive! I want to do what's best for my spine, but I am an aerobics instructor and runner! They are two things that really bring me joy and I can't imagine not returning to them once I recover from this surgery.
    Hopefully I'll get to talk to a PT and figure out what is reasonable and what is not.

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  • You can certainly return to them and an NS will probably tell you its okay. However, if you're worried about adjacent disks having problems, you may want to reconsider. But that's up to you. My NS said I shouldn't go in my boat again...but I have and I will. It's my choice and I know the risks.

    That's not to say that you may be fine and never have another problem again. It may depend on the reason for the 1st herniation; if an adjacent disk is already mildly herniated; if your neck muscles are strong. I found that pilates & yoga didn't do as much for strengthening my neck as the specific exercises given to me by my PT. The pilates & yoga compliment those exercises by providing entire spinal strengthening. Make sure your aerobics and running give you the proper core strenthing that you need.

    ...it would be interesting to see a moving xray of the spine while someone is running.
  • I've read of a couple of folks having ACDF and returning to running. I would plan to take much time off to be sure to heal completely and check with your docs! I have been a runner for 25 years averaging 40 miles per week. I asked an ortho and three N/S if running caused DDD or any of my problems, and they all said no. I'm sure some docs would see if differently. It's sure hard to think of giving up the things that give you joy in life. Good luck with your recovery.--Mazy
  • Welcome to the medical profession. No statistically significant studies are done on this.

    No doctor can say definitively that fusions lead to more fusions. People might have multiple fusions simply because their spines were going to always inevitably deteriorate. In contrast, I know professional athletes who played with fusions and have lived normally afterward.

    Phil Jackson of the NBA had a fusion in the 1970s and played 7 to 8 seasons for the New York Knicks. Well, you still see him coaching after all these years and he didn't need any extra fusions.

    I suspect that one's overall health determines these things in the long run. If you were strong and fit to begin with, then I think fusions shouldn't be so impacting. On the other hand, if you are overweight and showed spinal deterioration, it might likely continue with a fusion buying time in terms of further structural damage.

    Why the medical community does not track every single fusion patient across every possible dimension across time is beyond me. The technology is available and it is cheap.

    Cheers, Mate
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  • ...it would be interesting to see a moving xray of the spine while someone is running.
    I completely agree. A static scan is only so useful. Professional athletes basically get moving scans because they can take as many MRIs as they need...unlike the rest of us insurance paying folk.

    Cheers, Mate
  • I had a C5-6 discectomy and fusion 7.5 years ago for loss of muscle mass and function in my left arm and hand. I researched it at the time because I had similar concerns. I thought the medical evidence supported a positive outcome due to the limited movement of the cervical spine. My doctor released me to full activity 6 weeks post op. All of my neck and left upper extrmity problems resolved. I have not had any neck problems since and I hope never to have any again!
    Best wishes in your recovery!
  • I had a cervical fusion c5-c6. Now I'm 10 months post-op and My neck feels like normal. The only pain I have is if I'm doing something that requires my head to be tilited back alot.

    Good Luck with your fusion,
    Christina :)
  • I am almost 5 months out of a C2-C5 and I still am having trouble. I was told that what I am left with a year out from surgery is what I may be with for life in terms of pain and weakness and such. But like everyone else has says, I guess it depends on the person! Good luck with everything!

  • Posterior spinous process fusion C4-5 in 1984 after an accident (multiple fractures 3,4,5 torn ligaments etc). No major problems. Some loss of range of motion and maybe my neck grinds a bit. On the activity front, 10 years full contact martial arts, boxing, rock climbing and so forth. I admit to not asking doctors if this was advisable. But as has been mentioned, yoga/pilates type excercises would be good . Obviously in the short term impact sports would be questionable. I certainly belive in staying active. Known people to turn an actute injury into a chronic problem by letting an injury make them sedentary.
    All the best.
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