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Cervical & Lumbar Fusion

I need a 4 level fusion in my cervical spine before my lumbar can be addressed. My entire lumbar spine is bad & hurts way worse than my neck but I was told my cord is 70% impinged and is a priority.

I am only 48 and want to know if these surgeries actually work & if they will last for 20 years. 

I have been on pain management for 14 years now and nothing seems to work anymore. 

I need to work as I am not wealthy & have supported myself since I was 17. I have a family and am afraid that this could make me worse off.

Has anyone been through something similar?  I have pain, and numbness in arms, I get shooting pains in the back of my head but the lower back pain is unbearable, my legs feel weak and my right leg feels like it is dying from the knee down for lack of a better description.  My balance is off and I am getting weaker by the week it seems. 



  • LizLiz Posts: 2,006

    Welcome BuffaloTed, we’re glad you’re here!

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    Have you seen the Spinal Fusion Health Center on Spine-health? Spinal fusion surgery comes in many forms, and you’ll find a number of doctor-authored resources here, including Types of Spinal FusionPostoperative Care for Spinal Fusion Surgery, and tips to help Maximize the Ability to Heal After Spine Fusion Surgery. It’s a great resource for anyone considering spinal fusion. I hope you find it helpful.

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  • Hello BuffaloTed,

    I had a 3-level fusion 13 months ago.  If your muscles are involved (for example, weakness and balance), it becomes a higher priority than pain.  From what I have been told, the pain is from sensory nerves while muscle weakness is from deeper nerves.  The sensory nerves are more sensitive but they also "bounce back" quicker.  When the deeper nerves are involved, it becomes more serious.  Have you had a heart to heart conversation with your surgeon about expectations? 

    With ACDF, there are risks.  There is the risk of non-fusion, which may or may not cause symptoms.  There is also the risk of adjacent segment disease where the discs above and below the fusion wear out a little quicker.  But, that has to be weighed with your pain, quality of life, and whether or not the muscle weakness will continue to deteriorate to the point of putting you in a wheelchair.  This is a conversation you should have with your surgeon.  Being able to support your family is important, but you will also have to be physically capable of supporting them.  Many people find that they need to go on either short term disability of long term disability.

    I am 51 and my biggest concern about surgery was the impact on my family, especially the 6 weeks I had to be off, not working, and not allowed to drive (because my surgeon wanted me in a collar 24/7).  As for going back to work and being able to drive after surgery, that is all so individual and also dependent on whether or not your surgeon wants you in a collar.  I will tell you that surgery was an immediate success, though I had muscle spasms and pain from surgery site.  Things really were much better at 3 months.  By 6 months, I was able to do most of my pre-surgery activities.  At 11 months, I even went water skiing.

    Though, shortly after water skiing, I started having the familiar pain across shoulder and down arm, with numbness in my fingers.  Weakness has continued to get worse as I press through conservative treatments.  I had a CT myelogram and learned that my lowest fusion, C6/7, is only partially fused.  Doc doesn't think my symptoms are from that.  He said they would not do anything about non-fusion unless it caused me problems.  I am in that place of trying to figure out what is generating my symptoms.  Until I know what is causing it, I really do not know what the best "fix" is....injections, continued PT, another surgery.

    As for surgery, it was well worth it to get nearly a year of pain free, back to my old self person.  Constant pain changes you.  Again, I cannot state enough how important it is for you to discuss your expectations and prognosis with your surgeon.  Also, let him/her know your concerns and ask what life would look like if you did not have the surgery.  Also, many of us get a second opinion for ease of mind.  I did not like what my surgeon said initially and ended up seeing three other surgeons for their advice before going back to the first one.

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  • 70% cord compression is very concerning, that's about where mine was before my C4-C7 ACDF, surgeon told me to not trip and fall or get myself in a car wreck because of the risk of paralysis, he also said that permanent nerve damage was a real possibility.

    As far as 20 years goes, I don't think any surgeon will promise you that.

    My surgery went well, tingling and numbness were gone as soon as surgery was over.

    Take care and keep us posted


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