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  1. #1
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    Cervical Fusion Recovery TImes?

    I had a C5-C6-C7 cervical fusion on Monday. For those of you who think this has something to do with female anatomy, it doesn't! I had two ruptured disks in my spine pressing against the nerve roots, causing numbness and pain.

    I went to Moab two weeks ago and had a great time. I never fell, never had any hard hits at all. I drove back straight through on Sunday night (alone), and Monday morning I woke to what I thought was a stiff neck. It gradually got worse, and long story short, I lost all tricep strength in my left arm, had numb fingers in my left hand, and had so much pain I couldn't stand it. I muddled through the week, had a massage, and finally couldn't take the pain.

    I went to the ER, thinking I might be having a heart attack. They ruled out the heart and did an MRI and I was immediately recommended for surgery to remove the offending disks and fuse my spine together in my neck! WTF??? I freaked and decided to get a second and third opinion. The opinions kept getting more pessimistic, and the pain and numbness kept getting worse. I finally scheduled surgery last Friday, and had it Monday AM. Trust me, there are few people more averse to surgery than I, due to a staph infection I had from one ten years ago, but this was too far gone for therapy.

    The surgery consists of cutting open your neck from the front, dissecting out the bad disks, putting solid spacers in place of the disks, and using a permanent titanium plate to hold it in place while the spine fuses together. They have some very recently approved replacement disks, but I didn't feel like using my spine for a beta test of someone's bright idea.

    Yes, it hurts right now.

    So in the span of a little over two weeks I have gone from Porcupine Rim to the couch.

    I get completely conflicting readings about when I can ride again. The surgeon says six weeks and I can be doing easy road riding, three months for MTB. His assistant says three months for road riding ,six months for MTB. One of the docs I went to before surgery said he wouldn't ride MTB for a year!!!! I also am looking for someone who can tell me how the limited range of motion has affected their riding, and everything else.

    As tempting as it is to go with the three month number, I'm trying to find people who have had this kind of surgery who were aggressive mountain bikers to see how long they waited. Six months blows the whole season, and that, well, blows.

    As for how this happened? No one can say. I have worked at computer terminals for almost 30 years, so that is definitely a factor. I probably injured my neck sometime in the past, and either driving six hours in a bad position, or sleeping on it poorly when I got home was the final straw.

  2. #2
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    Bummer

    Sorry to hear about your neck problems. It sounds like having surgery was the prudent thing to do. It seems that your surgery was pretty complex, and it would be wise to err on the conservative side regarding return to mountain biking. It takes time for bone healing to ensure a good fixation of the fusion hardware. The potential for crashing and disrupting the hardware is probably higher if the bone is not completely healed. I would not ride until the surgeon says ok, based on xrays that show adequate healing. Another thing to consider is your position on the bike. A more upright position will put less stress on your neck. A friend of mine had a similar surgery and eventually decided that a recumbant bike was best for his neck. It might be a good idea to consult a physical therapist who rides and is an experienced bike fitter. GOOD LUCK!

  3. #3
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    Cervical Spine Fusion - Two Weeks Later

    I am going to use this thread like a diary to help anyone else who may go through cervical fusion in the future. There are 150,000 of these done a year, so someone else on here will need this someday.

    I went to the doctor today. My C5-C6-C7 fusion surgery was 15 days ago. He said everything is looking good, and now I start physical therapy next week.

    The first week was hell. Little sleep, lots of pain. Gradually, I have been sleeping and moving a little more each day. I have pretty severe pain and numbness in my left arm when I extend it. This is supposed to disappear over time. I have a soft collar I wear when driving or walking around. Today, I was given a "PEMF" collar. This is a Pulsed Electro Magnetic Field collar. Really. Talk about wacky stuff. I am supposed to wear it for four hours a day for three to six months to enhance the fusion of the vertebrae by pulsing an electromagnetic field into the spine.

    I work a desk job, and I am going back to work next week. The doctor said I can ride a stationary trainer at six weeks, and a road bike when I feel like it after that. MTB is three months at the earliest. They would like to see the bone fusion begin before I start riding anything aggressively. That can take anywhere from 3 to 9 months. They use X-Rays to determine the fusion.

    I am walking 2-3 miles a day. I also saw an acupuncture doc and am going to have weekly treatments there. Anything to get back to something like normal.

    I can't lift more than 20 pounds for three months. 10 pounds over my head. Talk about muscle atrophy. I just have to live with this aspect. Of course, with this restriction, any kind of climbing on the bike will be next to impossible, even if I am on it before then.

    I am cleared to hike as much as I want/can tolerate. That will be most of my summer exercise I guess.

  4. #4
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    Almost 4 weeks....

    I want to continue this thread to help anyone in the future who might have the same surgery.

    I am two days short of four weeks since my surgery. The past week I made good progress. Much less pain and numbness in my left arm, and I am sleeping much better. No pain meds at all. I think I did take one Tylenol this week. I still pretty much sleep flat on my back. I wear the soft collar while working at the PC, and while driving.

    I still fatigue easily. I started back to work half time this week, and will go full time next week. It is amazing how tired you can get from sitting in front of a screen all day.

    I started physical therapy this week. They did an eval, said I was doing great, and gave me some simple exercises. The goals will be to regain upper body strength and work on posture. Talk about stick arms.

    One weird fallout from the surgery is when I have my neck in a stretched position with my chin out, I can feel the titanium plate pushing against the back of my throat. I have to be careful or the plate will wear through my esophagus. That would suck.

    I am looking at possibly doing some short, easy road riding beginning in July, which would be six weeks. I will have to be really upright. I doubt I will ever be able to ride a road bike in a normal position again.

    Mountain biking is a long way off.

  5. #5
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    Seven Weeks...

    Today it has been seven weeks since my fusion.

    I have much more motion than I had a few weeks ago. I would say 70% of what I used to have, which means about 90% of what I am going to end up with.

    I can now sleep on my side, and I generally sleep all night. If I sleep in a jacked up position, I pay for it the next day. I have to be careful about the exact position of my neck while sleeping.

    PT has been progressing with various stretching exercises and a little very low resistance Theraband (big rubber bands). I still cannot lift anything. As soon as I pick up something over about 10 pounds, my neck screams. I only wear my soft collar occasionally when I drive now. I did wear it all the way to Moab and back (6 hours each way) this weekend.

    I have done four very easy bikes rides. MTB on bike path, five miles or so. I can't tilt my head to look forward unless my torso is very upright. I also can't strain or climb. Getting back to where I can ride with any kind of intensity, even on the road, is going to take at least another six to eight weeks. The couple of times I have jogged a little (like scooting across an intersection on foot, for example), it has hurt very badly. I won't be able to run at any intensity for months.

    I am working my desk job full time. I still get fatigued more easily than I am used to, a combination of healing and just being out of shape.

  6. #6
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    One Year Ago Today

    My surgery was one year ago today. I am posting to give other people who might have this surgery a little more hope.

    Immediately after my surgery, I felt like my mountain biking was done for a long time. I was off the bike pretty much until fall. I did some riding, but any jostling was painful. My PT and acupuncture helped.

    I basically rode weenie trails and the road bike, no more than two hours, through the winter, about once a week. Starting in January, I also started riding the velodrome in Boulder, which was a huge step up for me. The head position was tough, but I found at that point that the harder I worked it, the faster I progressed. I also did quite a bit of downhill skiing, right up to last weekend.

    Now, one year later, I am ready to go unlimited. I'm signed up for Leadville, and progressing toward that. I'm tuning up the DH bikes, and I plan on doing more of that this year. I'm not holding back. I can't give up what I like to do just because of the possibility I might hurt myself again. I might hurt myself driving to work, or walking down the stairs, too.

    The doctor says I'm free to do whatever, but minimize running. I am a little bummed out about that, because I always wanted to do a marathon, but maybe I'll just walk one...enough people do that these days, right?

    Anyone with the same issue, feel free to PM me for support. Ironically, a coworker had the exact same surgery in February, but only one level. This is not as uncommon as I thought.

  7. #7
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    My uncle had this surgery around 10 years ago. The doctors screwed him up though. They somehow made the mistake of severing the nerve endings going to his legs and now he cant stand or walk for long periods of time and he is in pain pretty much all the time. Im glad you were able to make a recovery!

  8. #8
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    Honkinunit,

    Your story has given me a tremendous boost of hope.

    I have had two fusions. The first was due to a herniated disc at C5/C6. The surgery was in 1992 and employed a bone graft. I actually began mtn biking a few months later to stay in shape. I had absolutely no issues with my fusion from cycling and mtn biking eventually became the center of my universe and I couldn't imagine a life without a mtn bike.

    On November 6, 2008, I broke my neck while going through an inflatable obstacle course. My head snapped foward upon landing after jumping over a wall, which caused C4 to disengage from C5 (it shifted foward 8mm). This movement bruised the nerve that goes to my right deltoid/bicep area. My Dr says that I was extremely fortunate because he has seen similar injuries that resulted in permanent nerve damage and paralysis.

    Unlike the first fusion, which was anterior, this one was posterior. Now, C4 has joined C5 and C6 as a single unit by 2 rods and 6 screws. My Dr does not recommend any type of offroad riding at all, ever! This was devastating news.

    I am now nearly 8 months post surgery. I began hiking once a week up to 6 miles each hike in March. In May I begain doing road rides on my mtn bike and have ridden nearly 75 miles total. I installed a longer travel fork, shorter and taller stem, and high-rise bar to help get me in a more upright position. I know that I will return to the dirt someday, but I have committed to myself and family to avoid any offroad riding until the Spring of 2010.

    Thanks again for your story and updates. It is great therapy to hear from other mtn bikers that have lived through this to ride again.

    Rich

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by honkinunit
    Today it has been seven weeks since my fusion.

    I have much more motion than I had a few weeks ago. I would say 70% of what I used to have, which means about 90% of what I am going to end up with.

    I can now sleep on my side, and I generally sleep all night. If I sleep in a jacked up position, I pay for it the next day. I have to be careful about the exact position of my neck while sleeping.

    PT has been progressing with various stretching exercises and a little very low resistance Theraband (big rubber bands). I still cannot lift anything. As soon as I pick up something over about 10 pounds, my neck screams. I only wear my soft collar occasionally when I drive now. I did wear it all the way to Moab and back (6 hours each way) this weekend.

    I have done four very easy bikes rides. MTB on bike path, five miles or so. I can't tilt my head to look forward unless my torso is very upright. I also can't strain or climb. Getting back to where I can ride with any kind of intensity, even on the road, is going to take at least another six to eight weeks. The couple of times I have jogged a little (like scooting across an intersection on foot, for example), it has hurt very badly. I won't be able to run at any intensity for months.

    I am working my desk job full time. I still get fatigued more easily than I am used to, a combination of healing and just being out of shape.
    Do you still wear the collar sometimes,and how long did you wear the collar after surgery,and Have you rode with the collar on? My fusion was done on June 2nd and the Collar they gave me is a Babe magnet
    My oem parts 14 screws 3 plates and two hip replacement.I hope that's enough upgrades.

  10. #10
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    I win!!

    Actually I wish I didn't win...

    eatcake and spongstick hopefully all is well. As you can see form my lovely xrays I have been down that road and then some but I wanted to mention something specific to be aware of. In April 2006 I endoed and landed flush on the top of my helmet (somehow ) which resulted in 2 dislocated vertebrae and a small crack in a third plus a nice learjet ride from Moab back to Denver.

    The first surgery was a posterior fusion from c5 to t2 and I should have been all good but the docs put me in an Aspen collar after the surgery and said wear it all the time which I did religiously. What I didn't realize for a couple of months afterwards was that the dang collar was actually a little small for me and had my head resting forward a bit so 2 of the vertebrae actually healed at the wrong angle with 2 screws pulling out of the bone just a bit. Unfortunately I rolled for 2 years with head and neck in a forward position that was quite uncomfortable and really jacked up the rest of my back.

    So anyway I found a surgeon who said she could get me back to a more normal spine shape (seriously) but she had to do it by performing 4 wedge osteotomies and cranking a bunch of vertebrae back a few degrees at each level and locking it all down with those screws. I'm sure you guys are probably fine by now or you would definitely know but be aware that the damn hardware does pull out sometimes and cause significant issues.

    Sort of an understatement I guess...
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by bulletbob; 07-01-2009 at 02:05 PM. Reason: hopefully that image isn't quite as large...
    Sorry what?

  11. #11
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    Holy Sh*t! That is a lot of hardware in there! Mine looks just like the outer six screws in the upper neck area.

    Thanks for the information. Although my Dr and PT says that everything is solid, I do see the Dr every six months to check the hardware in my neck. He also wants an annual MRI to catch any future problems early.

  12. #12
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    Couple of follow-up questions:

    What is your range of motion (side-to-side, up and down, etc)?

    Do you still ride?

  13. #13
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    These questions were for bulletbob.

  14. #14
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    yea mostly ok...

    Howdy Fellas,

    Yes I am biking a lot now although I've still had some back muscle issues since the whopper surgery in November when the doc put in all that posterior hardware. My last followup visit was in April and the doc said it would probably take several months for all the back muscles to figure what they're supposed to be doing now that they reshaped my spine, basically muscles that weren't working before have to be working now and a few that were working don't really have much to do now that the spine is mostly immobile in some areas.

    I don't mtn. bike as much anymore partly because my friends aren't as much either but I'm a wee bit punchy on rocky trails anymore so I get off and walk some sections that I never thought twice about in the past. I have been riding a lot on the road bike to get back in shape and get stronger on both bikes, in fact, I did the MS150 last weekend and think I rode about 400 miles in June. The only significant annoyance I have are the sub-occipital muscles up the back of my head sometimes give me a headache after being on the bike for several hours but I can knock it out with acetaminophen. By the way did your docs tell you not to take ibuprofen and stick with acetaminophen only?? I had 2 surgeons at 2 different hospitals tell me that.

    I definitely have lost maybe 20% side to side range of motion and maybe 25-30 looking down as well. I have to either hold my shirt up or check the mirror tro see if I dribbled food on it sometimes (haha). The important part for me is that I can hold my head up for an extended period and actually see out from under my helmet visor now!

    By the way sorry that image was so big, it's darn near lifesize!
    Sorry what?

  15. #15
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    I hear you about the muscle pain. I can only be on the bike of 1.5 to 2 hours before my neck pain becomes uncomfortable. I had severe muscle atrophy on my right side from my neck to my bicep due to nerve damage. My bicep and deltoid have recovered to about 90%. There is still a significant difference between left and right trapezius muscles, which is the source of pain. The fact that it hurts after each ride tells me that I am working it, so it should recover with each ride as long as I don't over do it.

    I am amazed that you are back on the bike so soon. Your surgery was about the same time as mine and I can only ride about 20 miles at a time.

    Regarding the ibuprofen vs acetaminophen, I don't take ibuprofen due to allergies so it was never an issue.

  16. #16
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    I'm having a C5-T1 three level fusion next week. My doc says that I should be back to normal in about 3 weeks and should be back to biking in 4 weeks. I''ve talked to a couple of his patients and all of them have had zero issues and been pain free within 2 weeks. I'm really looking forward to being able bike again. I've been fighting pain for the last year while biking but kept putting the surgery off.

  17. #17
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    Voodoosix,

    That's great news that you will be back on the bike so soon. What is the reason for the fusion?

  18. #18
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    Back in November of 2006, I crashed striking a tree. The impact on the top of my head ruptured 3 discs and paralyzed me from the neck down for about an hour. After a few months of neuropathy, i was able to start riding again and I've been riding, but the pain has recently gotten worse and the doc says with my cord compressed as much as it is, one wrong fall would end it for me. I've been riding in a high risk condition for a while and I think now it's time to fix it.

  19. #19
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    excellent!

    Quote Originally Posted by Voodoosix
    I'm having a C5-T1 three level fusion next week. My doc says that I should be back to normal in about 3 weeks and should be back to biking in 4 weeks. I''ve talked to a couple of his patients and all of them have had zero issues and been pain free within 2 weeks. I'm really looking forward to being able bike again. I've been fighting pain for the last year while biking but kept putting the surgery off.
    You'll be in good shape I'm sure! I'm not sure whether you'll actually feel that good that quickly or not but really even I was in decent shape after my first surgery, it was just the screws that moved later in my recovery where things went off track.

    Actually I can't believe you were riding like that but your mileage may vary

    That paralysis you mentioned scares the hell out of me just reading about it!! When I crashed my hands and forearms went numb for a few minutes which is mostly how I knew something unpleasant happened... That and the pain from the cracked vertebrae between my shoulders.

    Good luck!
    Sorry what?

  20. #20
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    I had my surgery yesterday. I was extremely nervous as this was my first surgery. I'm amazed at how good I feel. All of my numbness and pain in my hands and lower legs is gone. I have some minor pain around the incision site and some muscle pain around the neck shoulders and chest but other than that I feel good. I left the hospital at 9am, went by Target, grocery shopped and got my meds filled. Now I'm kicking back at home waiting for it to get worse. So far though its been a walk in the park. I'll keep updating here.

  21. #21
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    Damn dude don't get to racy yet!! Seriously! Trust me!

    It's great that all that weird numbness and pain is gone, it's pretty frustrating to have things you can do anything about!!

    Heal quick!
    Sorry what?

  22. #22
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    Another update. I've been downhilling, racing short track, riding a lot. I've crashed a few times with no issues. I'm riding until I can't.

    At this point, sleeping is more of a problem than riding. I still get screwed up sometimes overnight and have a sore neck in the morning.

    Yes, you 'win', bulletbob. Yikes.

  23. #23
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    I had my post surgical checkup appointment today. Doc says the neck looks good and cleared me to ride or do whatever else I want. I'm pretty much pain free now. I can't believe that I had spinal fusion surgery just 1 week ago and already feel like I did before I got hurt. I am planning to do some cross country racing starting in August. I asked the doc if I should hold off on it and he said if I feel like I can do it, it's okay. He says my neck is far stronger now than it was before the surgery so "hop to it".



  24. #24
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    is it me or does it say yeti on the last x-ray

  25. #25
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    LOL..yep it does..its photochopped...

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