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Fusion after disc replacement?
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Fusion after disc replacement?

Hello, two years ago, I had a C5-C6 disc replacement after suffering from pains in both arms.  The pain manifested itself in the crook of the elbow and prevented me from using the computer and rock climbing.  Eventually, I struggled opening heavy doors.  The disc replacement was supposed to open up the C5-C6 vertebrae, which appeared to be impinging on the nerve root.

The surgery was claimed to be a success as there was no longer an impingement of the nerve viewed on a CT scan.  However, I was left in more pain than before the operation and can do many fewer things than before.  I wonder if the diagnosis was correct.  I have visited an alternative neurologist who has suggested reluctantly, that I could have the disc removed and the vertebrae fused.  The pain I am in is not constant, and does diminish over time if I am very careful in what I do.  My problem is, I know I will never ride bike or climb again in the condition I am in.

What are your thoughts/advice on a further operation to have the vertebrae fused?  I have been given 80% chance of it being a success.  My main concern is the increased scar tissue causing a greater problem than I have already.

I look forward to your comments

regards, nervesatingle


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Always be careful when surgeons spout statistics.  Several years ago I had a double level spinal fusion and had been convinced it was the right thing to do partly because the orthopedic surgeon had said his surgeries had an "80% success rate."  It turns out that he did lessen the pain, but I'm not sure it was worth the incredible risk of surgery.  His definition of success was "the fusion was filled in with bone and the spine stabilized".  His definition had nothing to do with pain level or functioning.  I wish I'd never had the surgery now - I am still a heavy opiate/muscle relaxant user.

Also, some surgeries create a devastating and not well known CNS disease called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD/CRPS), also called complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), which is a nervous system disorder that often results in severe chronic and burning pain.  During pain management therapy I saw 3 patients there afflicted with this.  RSD starts at the point of surgery, then spreads to other areas of the body.  One RSD patient had a minor shoulder surgery, which ended up causing so much pain her arm froze into a bent position.  She was in such bad pain she couldn't eat and looked like a skeleton covered with just a bit of thin flesh.  I felt really bad for her.

One thing to look into is a good pain management clinic.  A good one incorporates physical therapy, medication training, psychological training and counseling, functional restoration, perhaps classes in meditation, tai chi, chi gong, and art therapy.  If you do try the surgery route, try and get doc to get some of his surgical patients to call you so you can talk with them.   Hope this has helps a bit and don't give up on eventually returning to bike riding, rock climbing, or keyboard storming.
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