Spinal fusion surgery is performed to correct many problems of the vertebrae and bone components of the spine, and restoring the stability of the spine helps to reduce your pain and discomfort.
But one of the most common side effects after spinal fusion surgery is various pains in the shoulder, neck, back, and lower limbs.
In the following, we want to talk about fusion surgery and shoulder pain after this surgery, and the opinion of experts about it.
Shoulder pain after spinal fusion surgery
It is completely predictable and normal to have mild to moderate pain which spreads to your shoulder and neck for a period of one to two weeks after this surgery.
A number of people after surgery may feel intensified and flaring pains in the arm area, as well as spreading pains to elbows, forearms, wrists, and fingers.
So, if you have undergone cervical spinal fusion surgery, you may experience neck and shoulder pain that affects your arms and spreads to your elbows, wrists, and fingers in 14 days after the surgery, but these pains are definitely transitory and temporary.
In reconstructive surgeries that are used for the fusion of the front part of the cervical spine, the presence of these complications is normal until the first 14 and 15 days.
Why do you experience shoulder pain after fusion surgeries in the anterior part of the cervical spine?
With extensive investigations in people who have experienced this surgery, we came to the conclusion that having neck pain and also the pain between the shoulder and shoulder blades for the first weeks after this surgery is completely obvious, normal and predictable.
Doctors attribute these pains to generalized inflammations in the tissues of the surgical site and to the incisions made by the surgeon’s scalpel on the skin and subcutaneous tissues and damage to the muscles and soft tissues adjacent to the spine.
During fusion surgeries, the front part of the cervical spine, the muscles under the skin, tendons, and other soft tissues are surgically cut and damaged.
The reactive spasms that occurred in the muscles of the surgical area and the injuries caused by the surgeon’s scalpel will cause you to feel pain and discomfort in the neck, shoulder and between your shoulder blades in the first few weeks.
When the damaged tissues go through their natural healing and restoration stages, the intensity of your pain will gradually decrease and the pain will disappear completely in the coming weeks.
Cervical spine fusion surgery is considered a major and extremely sensitive and extensive surgery.
Tissue repair will take time and the first 4 to 6 weeks after this surgery is your critical recovery period and will be accompanied by some pain and discomfort.
Get acquainted with spinal fusion surgery
Spinal fusion surgeries are complex and difficult surgeries and the so-called major surgeries.
In these surgeries, the space between the vertebral bodies filled by the disc is filled with natural or artificial bone tissue, in this way, two or three of the bone bodies and vertebrae of your spine are connected to each other and in this way the movements between the vertebrae are completely lost.
What are the benefits of spinal fusion?
The fusion or connection of two or three of the bony vertebrae of your spine and the elimination of alternating movements between the vertebrae prevents the stretching of the nerve fibers and the stretching of the ligaments around the spine, as well as the stretching and sprains of the muscles around the spine.
The source and origin of many pains that come from the spine are misplaced movements of the spine.
All kinds of injuries such as arthritis or inflammation of the joints such as osteoarthritis, and the deterioration of the main components of the spine with age make the spine unstable.
Fusion surgery is chosen by your surgeon in cases where the instability of the spine and its misplaced movements have caused pain, discomfort or damaging pressures on the nerve fibers.
Orthopedic surgeons believe that if a painful vertebra does not move, the source of pain production will disappear and the patient will not have pain.
In short, reducing pain and discomfort, reducing stretching and cramping, reducing ligament damage, and reducing pressure on our nerve fibers, all come together with an end result that is reduced pain and discomfort.
How is cervical spinal fusion surgery performed?
There are different techniques to perform fusion between several vertebrae of the cervical spine.
Your surgeon may prefer to approach your spine and neck from the front. This access is called the anterior access, where an incision is made in the front of the neck by the surgeon.
A posterior approach, which provides access to the spine from behind, will involve an incision in the back.
According to the problems of each person, the surgery of different people requires a special technique and access that is determined only by the surgeon.
Connection with bone grafting
When two or more vertebrae of your spine are to be fused to each other, the doctor will use your bone tissue, for example, your hip bone tissue, or he may use artificial bone or bone graft, or he requests a suitable tissue sample from the tissue bank.
In what cases is fusion surgery recommended?
- Degenerative or destructive diseases:
- Destructive processes related to the disk
- Slippage of the vertebral body
- Narrowing of the spinal canal or scoliosis, which means lateral curvature of the spine
- The presence of fractures in the vertebrae
- Vertebral body infections
Pain after fusion
Every surgery in the world has side effects.
Spinal fusion surgery as a major and very sensitive and important surgery will not be excluded from this principle.
Among the complications that may occur after surgery, we can mention the following common cases:
- Intraoperative bleeding
- Pain at the bone graft site
- And recurrence of symptoms, which is very common
- Also, a rare complication called damage to nerve fibers is one of the complications of this surgery.
Moderate pain in the first one to two weeks and its continuation with mild intensity one month to one and a half months after the surgery due to surgical incisions on the skin, under the skin, tendons and muscles, is completely normal and temporary.
The pains are usually not accompanied by symptoms of infection and the scalpel wound is not infected.
The most important principle for cervical spine fusion surgeries is pain management and control.
Treatment, control and management of diffuse shoulder, arm and hand pain in neck fusion surgery
We said that the most common and obvious complication is completely temporary and transitory, and in cervical spine fusion surgery, the pain will be mild to moderate.
This pain is a natural part of the path of recovery and healing of your damaged tissues.
Be sure that your surgeon and treatment group are aware of these pains and will do their best to reduce this pain.
Treating pain by being relaxed and eliminating anxiety will make you recover faster.
Doctors use highly specialized drugs to effectively relieve moderate pain after surgery in the hospital.
Short-term use of narcotic drugs while you are hospitalized will help you tolerate severe pain after regaining consciousness.
Upon discharge, non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs and local anesthetics will help you to go through the recovery period well.
The doctor will do his best to minimize your need for narcotics.
Under no circumstances should you resort to narcotics arbitrarily to control these pains.
If your pain worsens after discharge, be sure to inform your surgeon.
Another important principle to manage pain and help it heal faster is to start rehabilitation sessions.
For example, right after the operation, the doctor advises you to get out of bed with the help of a nurse and walk a few steps.
After regaining the ability and strength, you should slowly increase the level of your activities.
It is said that specialized physiotherapy will start and continue from the sixth week to three months after the surgery.
During the recovery period, follow physical activity and healthy eating and avoid alcohol and any kind of smoking. It is said that the use of tobacco and any substance containing nicotine may cause your fusion surgery to fail.
During your recovery period after spinal fusion surgeries, your doctor may recommend some permanent restrictions after spinal fusion.
Note that compliance with these restrictions is mandatory according to your doctor’s order and will make your surgery process successful.
Although many people do not have any restrictions on their activities after 6 to 8 months after surgery, but in certain circumstances, the prescription of permanent restrictions after spinal fusion is needed.
For example, restrictions during the first three months include avoiding lifting heavy objects, twisting and bending.
In what cases should we report the pain after spine fusion to the doctor urgently?
- If your pain is relieved, but after a few days, you see that it increases in intensity and this aggravated condition, has a progressive state, or your pain no longer responds to ordinary painkillers and creates a need for narcotics in you.
- If the pain is accompanied by painful touch or fever and chills
- If the pain is accompanied by redness, swelling, and secretions from the wound
- If you have pain accompanied by sudden swelling in your upper limb
In these cases, with the possibility that there is a clot in the vessels of your upper limb, you should go to the emergency room immediately.
after spinal fusion, pain and burning in the cervical spine is very common and possible, and be sure that if your surgery was done correctly, this pain is part of the path of repair and healing of your damaged tissues, and it will be fixed after 6 weeks.
Follow the medication orders of your doctor and treatment team both in the hospital and after discharge, and stop smoking and drinking alcohol so that the healing of the damaged tissues can be done faster.
Begin rehabilitation and physical therapy as directed.
If debilitating pains persists after 6 weeks, you should notify your surgeon immediately.