ACDF - Can pre-op pain take time to decrease? Ulnar pain with C5/C6 herniation?

Hi all,

I just had a one-level ACDF (C5/C6) on Monday 1/20. My pain started a few months ago in August of 2019 and I went through PT without success. My surgeon said I had a "very large" herniated disc that was causing spinal cord compression. Prior to surgery, I had neck pain that turned into left shoulder pain, that eventually turned into left arm and left hand pain. I had occasional tingling in my shoulder and in my hand, but I got into treatment pretty quickly, so it was mostly pain. Everything my doctors said and that I've read seemed to suggest that I would have immediate pain relief after surgery. I know that I'm only a few days out, but my pre-op pain feels worse! I know that the nerves can be inflamed and take time to heal, but what's concerning me is that I'm realizing belatedly that my pain pattern/doesn't perfectly map onto C5/C6; it seems like it's my ulnar nerve because my pinky/ring fingers hurt the most, which maps to C8-T1, but my CT shows nothing wrong there. I'm now panicking wondering if my arm/hand pain is unrelated to the herniation, even though that seems like an unlikely coincidence. I guess my main two questions are:

1) Is it normal for pre-op pain to flare up worse post-op and then get better over time? Has anyone here had this experience?

2) Can spinal cord compression cause symptoms that "map" to unaffected discs? Has anyone here had pain that didn't directly correspond to the affected discs, but was relieved by surgery?

Thank you for your help!



  • oceanicborne - I've had three ACDFs because of spine trauma.  After everyone of the ACDFs, I felt worse for several weeks.  The first week or two were the worst for me.  Remember, the soft tissue at the surgical area was disrupted/moved and takes time for the soft tissue inflammation to calm down. 

    From my experiences, update your surgeon and his/her support staff if you have questions or significant post-op changes.

  • Welcome oceanicborne we’re glad you’re here!

    You are very early in the recovery process, I have had several spine surgeries, an increase in pain after surgery happened after most of them, during surgery, nerves were moved and stretched, muscles were moved around and possibly cut, give it time, the pain usually starts getting better pretty quickly.

    While you’re waiting for a reply to your first post, please take a few moments to review the Code of Conduct and FAQ section, located under Forum Tools. There you will find important information about posting in the forum and helpful tips for new members.

    Have you read the article Practical Advice for Recovering from Back Surgery on Spine-health? It offers a lot of practical tips around what to expect before, during, and after surgery. You may also want to check out the video How to Prep Your Home for Spine Surgery Recovery, which also has some great tips.

    Again, welcome to the Veritas Health Forum.


    Veritas Health Forum Moderator

  • advertisement
Sign In or Join Us to comment.