Neurology Community
45.2k Members
Avatar universal

Neck and Shoulder pain after C5-6 fusion.

A little over a year ago, I had C5-6 fused. With a plate and screws inserted. Since then I am having trouble with pain in the neck and shoulder area just below the fusion area. I wake in the morning with a headache then turns to pain in lower neck and shoulders.
I have talked to the neurosurgeon who did the surgery and he shrugged his shoulders and said I have no idea and sent me back to my neurologist. He gave me a series of injections in both shoulders and the pain stopped for a couple days but then came right back. Then we tried massage therapy, it helps but only for a short period.Then I have to go back to the massage therapist again and again, my insurance will not pay for that. And I have tried changing my pillows on my bed and sleeping in different positions and nothing seems to help for long term.
What can I do?
257 Responses
Avatar universal
roonie. i am having simular problems after a C5 to C7 fusion with a peek implant and plate. only mine swells up at and below the surgery with alot of pain. i am getting the same run around you are. its been 10 mo. since my surgery. I have had an mri and it says i am fused and ok. i am trying to check into adverse reactions to the plate and PEEK implant . i would like to stay in touch with you to see how u come out and would certainly tell you what if anything they ever find with me? thanks
Avatar universal
Yes, please keep in touch. I would love to know what is going on and I will do the same. I am going back to neuro in 2 weeks and see what else he has to say......I am not sure can we post our email addresses here?
Avatar universal
i go this week .  ill risk posting my email.. its ***@****
Avatar universal
It really bothers me to see so many cases of severe post-fusion pain. Doctors must not be explaining all the possible complications with the surgeries.

All fusion surgeries carry a risk of permanent post-op pain, and it appears that the likelihood of such pain increases as you move up the spine. Perhaps this is due to the very high density of fine nerve fibers in the head and neck region.  Part of the problem lies in the fact that to obtain access to the regions to be fused, large quantities of otherwise unrelated nerve fibers are subject to trauma as they are pulled and pinned back to clear the working field for the surgeon. Too often, the trauma to these nerve fibers is not considered significant until post-op pain doesn't subside, and by then it is too late.

Although the pain may be severe, the nerve damage is rarely, if ever, bad enough to be seen by MRI or CT scans.  Neuralgia is usually diagnosed only by ruling out other conditions, and doctors hate to point out the probability that another doctor might have caused the problem. To me, this is a case of misguided "professional courtesy", and it only serves to cause the patient unnecessary suffering.

See a pain doctor or neurologist and ask if neuralgia might be your problem. If the answer is "no", don't leave the doctor's office unless they can give a very good explanation for why neuralgia would not be worth considering (and then prepare to watch the doctor try to fish for an answer).

The reality is that any spine surgery carries the risk of ne ve damage, so any chronic post-op pain is potentially due to nerve trauma during surgery.
Avatar universal
i did know that there could be nerve damage from the surgery. the thing with me is that all of the pain i had before surgery is gone and now i have pain and swelling where they did the surgery. the pain might be expected i guess, the swelling is another matter. I dont know of any one that has swelling in the back of the neck where the surgery was done . being i am completly fused i also wonder why its so tender to lightly press on that area?
Avatar universal
I am posting this because I was fortunate enough to have cervical surgery this year that has been a complete blessing.

I had injured my neck over three years ago and lived with severe pain everyday for three years. I was told by two different neurosurgeons that fusion was my only option. WRONG!

I had Laser surgery in May of this year and I can honestly say I now have NO PAIN and NO HARDWARE!! Plus I was back at my office less than one week after the surgery. The name of the facility is Laser Spine Institute : http://laserspineinstitute.com/home.aspx
They also work on fusions gone bad. (I have never heard of a good fusion personally) The so called "Gold Standard" they told me. Fusion should only be done for severe Spondylosis to stabilize the spine in my oppinion. It is now done WAY TOO OFTEN.

I had a bulging disc at C5-C6, stenosis at C3,C4,C5 and some degeneration. I was on major pain killers everyday for over two years. I am now pain and drug free!

I told myself that I would let as many people know as I can about this procedure. I will never hurt for you to check into it and feel free to email me and ask me anything. I only wish that I had known about Laser Spine Institute three years ago. It would have saved me from going through the pure hell that I did.

Avatar universal
WOW, I did not know about the nerve damage that could be done because of the fusion itself. My Dr said nothing of this to me before the surgery. And if he had. I would never had it in the first place.
I really cannot afford any more treatments. But what can Lasar Treatment do for this now? By the end of my day my neck and shoulders hurt so bad I really want to sit down and cry. And the past few nights I cannot sleep on my left side. The pain radiates down my spine.
I put in a call today to my neurologist for an appointment and I plan on asking him about the neuralgia. I just want to see what he has to say to that. I am also going to do some research and see what can be done for neuralgia. Any one know?
Thanks Alot.....Your information has been helpful. I will be checking back to read more....
Avatar universal
I dont know what kind of pain your having  but it sounds like the pain is in the same area mine is. because of the swelling i have they are finally taking me serious, and i am goin in soon for a bone scan with contrast. i do get nerve pain down my spine but the worst pain is not nerve type pain. i hope you u keep telling us  what happens as time goes on.
Avatar universal
Hi, I called Dr today and cannot get in till the end of this Month. I have an appointment early in the day. So we shall see what he has to say. I have a list of thing as long as my arm. I also have to talk to him about my migraine meds. They are helping considerable. But my insurance co. has changed the levels of payment and now need to get them on the generic side. Hopefully they will work as well. I take Topamax to prevent the migranes. And it really helps.
  Jane, when do you go back to the Dr? I am interested to hear what is going on. When do you have that test?

Avatar universal
i go on the 27th for a spec bone scan. ill let u know when i know more .  i had an injection in my neck for the pain and swelling . they hit a vein and i almost didnt make it so i dont know if they will help or not but ill be picking out a diff doctor. ill let you know and feel free to email me to keep in touch about how we both come out. thanks
Avatar universal
I was diagnosted with a torn disc in my neck and was told I would need a discogram and fusion surgery...can you give me some more info on this laser surgery..
Avatar universal
I believe I belong on your page. I too swell up in the surgery area and get in nasty burnig pain every day. I have nerves shoot through my body when I open my mouth fast, turn my body, step hard or sneeze.
I had 2 level fussion 5/5/06. They removed bone spurs all around C3-C4-C5, freed up nerves that where compromised and straighened a verdabrea that compressed my spine. Removed the disc, fused and secured with titanium plate. All symptoms from before are gone, all of them. But since I returned to work I started hurting. I also swell up and have a nasty burn on my shoulder blades. This seems to get worse every day. I spend most of my evening pressed against the back of the couch not moving.
Moving around seems to help, losen up the muscles. Pain killers are not effective. Muscle relaxers help a bit.
The doc says the upper level has not fused all the way. The verdabrea may be moving.
Does anyone know what causes this and what to do about it ?? I will now try calcium in high dose to aid bone graft growth.

Thanks ahead for you input
Avatar universal
Wow..I can't believe this. I had a Anterior Cervical Corpectomy one year ago. They replaced levels C3-C7. I have myelopathy and had a spinal cord compression. While I knew straight up not to expect my symptoms to go away due to that fact I already showed signs of some damage....I did not expect to "inherite" the pain I have in my shoulders and upper back. The burning and pain has made it impossible to return to my desk job. I can only sit at a computer for an hour at a time at most, and then I pay for it. After two months I tried to tell my surgeon how badly i felt and he told me I would never be normal and to get used to it. Mind you, I am a really positive person and went into this only expecting that I would hopefully be safe from paralysis. Thank God I read this post. I am going back to my Neurologist who did another MRI after the surgeon blew me off. He said I had a bunch of c-spine problems and that I had myelopathy.That was last spring. I am only (?) 41 and have been suffering. I need to get answers as to why I can't do the things I used to. I also recently found out I have a rare Auto Immune Type 1 diabetes, so I am sure it didn't help with the healing process at the time. Thank you all for sharing. I will make another appt. tommorrow. Bless you all!!
Avatar universal
I had an anterior cervical disectomy and fusion and have a metal plate in the c5-7 disk 18 months ago.  I have had a lumpy feeling in my neck ever since.  All the test show nothing is there.  I went back to my surgeon and he says the plate is still in place.  He did not know what the feeling is and wanted me to go back to my primary doctor.  Nobody can tell me what is wrong.  I cannot sit for more than 30 minutes until me neck and shoulders hurt.  I also had lumbar surgery the same time, and still suffer constant pain and it is getting worse. I can only grocery shop about 30 minutes at the most. I now have no job or insurance.  The surgeon has told me I will have reoccuring pain that can last for days, months, or longer.  Any suggestions what could be wrong?
178107 tn?1315947630
I also had a 2 level cervical fusion just 9weeks ago.  Before the surgery I had pain in my neck and down my right arm and into my hand.  Now both hands are numb esspecially the last two fingers on both hands. My arms and between my shoulder blades burn like fire. I hardly have any control of my hands.  I cant pick up small items or even turn the pages in a book.  My doctor did a post-op MRI and he said everything looks great.  He put me on Nuerotin about 3 weeks ago, but all it does is make me very dizzy.  I've had PH and it hasn't helped.  So I continue to take Percicet 7.5 and muscle relaxers every 4 to 6 hours.  I have 2 small children, ages 3 and 6, it's hard to even take care of my kids.  Has anyone else had this happen and what do I need to do to get some relief?  I never thought I would end up worse after the surgery.
Avatar universal
I had surgery in 07/2003 after a accident at work. I had my surgery done at Hackensack memorial in hackensack, nj., one of the best hospital and doctors i have ever had. I had a long time before i could get into therapy, afyer 4 long months in a hard collar. I never lost the pain in the neck and shooting pain in right side neck and radiating down my arm into hand and fingers tingling. fusion at c5-c6-c7. after a long time in rehab and therapy , i was sent to pain=management, i had several set of 3 injectons that only gave me breif releif. then i had a nerve block at c7 that didn't help but showed the dr. where some of the problem might be. back into pain-mamagement, then my company travel centers of america, cut off all of my insurance and money, said i was as good as it gets. I was still inserve pain and on pain killers every 6-8 hours. I had my medical doctor take on my case even though he wasn't getting paid. Thank God for him he is still treating me 3 years latter. he provided me with pain med and a new therapist that really got movement into my neck. Then we moved to maryland and i still travel 150 miles one way to see my doctors. In 09/2005 he sent me to have another ct scan after sever loss of hand control and still sharp pain in right side of neck and shoulder pins and neddes in the hand and fingers. the results was a pinched nerve at c7-t1. back to surgery in 11-2005 after lossing our son in a motorcycle accident in 10/2005. the surgery was great the pain at the neck area was released during the surgery. but still had major pain in hand and shoulder and back.The surgery was over a year ago and have delevoped pain in both side of neck and numbness in hands and horrible headache from the back of my neck up. i have been on major pain killers and viocdin and durgessic patches and lycria for the pin and needles in hand and neck. the insurance has stopped me from getting pain management to get me off of pain killers. And now i have just had another ct scam and mri. The ct scan shows anther pinched nerve at c7-t1. and the mri should be back this week. Does this ever end and how often does the nerve get pinched again, and my hands are really bad with pain and numbness, my head hurts so bad that no pain meds will help.
178107 tn?1315947630
Did you consult an attorney with your work injury?  My surgery was also the result of a work injury.  I have retained an attorney and he told me that the company that I work for would be responsible for all medical bills pertaining to my neck or any area that was effected from my injury for the rest of my life.  I know how bad the pain can be, I just hope it will eventually get better.  I'm so sorry for your lose and I wish you luck.
Avatar universal
Glad that so many posted a reply or comment. Thanks.
My good news is the new and higher soft collar I got. I sleep in it every night and it DOES make a difference. The burnig in my shoulder is less, the swelling too. Seems like it gives the neck a good break of movement at night. I advice everyone to give it a try.
I have not had any good news from my surgon so far. He wants to do surgery and install a plate from the back onto my none-fused verdabrea. That will be my last resort.
So I took matters in my own hand and give myself 2 month to make the fussion grow together.
Yesterday I had a bone density test, blood calcium level test and will have those results next week. If anything is out of the norm, I go on calcium shoots or osteoporosis pills.
I also got back on my bone stimulator for 4 hours every day. I never did like the way it feels, but who knows if it will really make a differece. Last year I wore it every day for 4 1/2 month after surgery.
I will keep you posted on my status beginning of March.
And....best luck to all of you. Maybe you'll find a way to lower or kill your pain for good.

Avatar universal
C-5 C-6 fusion with plate, and sooo many issues. From pain in the neck and shoulder, to numbness in the arms and right side. I also have headaches, and depression. No treatment and no help. OOO well. I have been to 2 neurosurgeons and in and out of the emergency room over and over. Pain is bad, and everyone looks at me as if I am crazy....
Avatar universal
Ever have problems swallowing food?
Avatar universal
Wow, I just can't believe all the horror stories I am reading about here....I had a posterior cervical laminoplasty at levels C-3 through C-7 in May of 2006, due to severe cord compression and myelopathy. I went to 4 neurosurgeons for evaluation (including the Mayo Clinic) before deciding to go with the surgeon I did....and am I ever glad now, considering what many of you have gone through with anterior surgeries and fusions.  The neuro I chose told me that her procedure was the "safest" one for my circumstances - they make an opening on one side of the lamina and tack it back, like an open door...which preserves stability while allowing the spinal cord more room.  She indicated that what people don't understand about fusions is that it puts additional pressure on the levels above and below, which can cause at the very least, additional pain.  There are, of course, times when fusion is called for, but not in my case.....at least not as a first resort.  Thank heavens I listened to her and decided on the laminoplasty!  Don't get me wrong....life isn't a bowl of cherries, but I don't have severe, unending pain and much of my numbness and tingling has gotten better.  I also just had lumbar surgery and that has posed a greater problem, in that I have arachnoiditis (clumping of the nerves near the cauda equina, where they exit from the spine.)  I don't know how I got it, but presume it was from an epidural injection that somehow went into the wrong area - it's fairly rare, but once you have it, there's nothing anyone can do, since they can't "un-clump" the nerves.  So...I have that going for me in the lower back, but I am most grateful that my cervical spine is improved with the laminoplasty and that I didn't proceed with the fusion.  My thoughts are with you and I hope you experience improvement in your symptoms.  By the way....Chuck, was your surgery done through the front?  I was told by one of the surgeons I consulted that swallowing difficulty was a potential side effect, since they're working so close to the vocal chords, etc....hopefully, that will improve for you over time......Jo
Avatar universal
535758 tn?1213715961
Wow I am looking for help and see trouble.. I had c5/6 done four months ago with plate.  As soon as I awoke I had awful shoulder pain after recheck my neck doctor sent me to shoulder doctor. I was told my shoulder was torn and they did surgery.  Now I have awful shoulder pain in both arms and can't sleep due to pain.  post op shoulder post op neck.  I DONT THINK I had a torn shoulder this pain is so bad I would have known before neck surgery...... wow what are they doing.....the doctor who did neck surgery should never sent me to a doctor to do surgery on my shoulder because this has to be from the neck surgery....... how could I have suddenly torn both shoulders???? This is crazy and the pain is so bad I can't stay like this I am getting worse by the day!  I NEED HELP!
535501 tn?1213634130
Wow,  i see the neuro surgeon tomorrow and I am more scared than ever.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Have an Answer?
Top Neurology Answerers
620923 tn?1452915648
Allentown, PA
5265383 tn?1483808356
1756321 tn?1547095325
Queensland, Australia
1780921 tn?1499301793
Queen Creek, AZ
Learn About Top Answerers
Didn't find the answer you were looking for?
Ask a question
Popular Resources
Find out how beta-blocker eye drops show promising results for acute migraine relief.
In this special Missouri Medicine report, doctors examine advances in diagnosis and treatment of this devastating and costly neurodegenerative disease.
Here are 12 simple – and fun! – ways to boost your brainpower.
Discover some of the causes of dizziness and how to treat it.
Discover the common causes of headaches and how to treat headache pain.
Two of the largest studies on Alzheimer’s have yielded new clues about the disease