Arm, midback and shoulder pain after cervical spine fusion

by Joyce
(St Clair, MO USA)

Arm, midback and shoulder pain after cervical spine fusion; it's usually not the cure we're looking for.

Pain in upper back that gives me headache and vomiting that last from six to eight hours. Can't sit in any chair if the upper T area touches, I sit with a thin pillow on left and right and top half of head like a small pillow.

Have had cervical fusion of 5-6-7 in 2008. For the correction of these symptoms. The headaches stopped for a brief time but returned to same in 1 year. I have numbness in underarm all the way down to hand on right side. While I sleep if I lie on my left side my right arm goes numb. Can't lift anything where I have to raise my arm outward.

I have been diagnosed with a tear in my rotator cuff. I also get a pain sometimes in chest in same area as my back problem as if they are connected. When this occurs it gets painful to breathe and to take a deep breath. I sleep the same way in my bed as I do in my chair, the pillows strategically placed to prevent my back from touching anything I'm on several medications for pain, inflammation have had steroid shots in that location of my back which did absolutely nothing.

Was diagnosed with degenerate bone in that area but still can't find the reason for the pain for the headaches or the vomiting spells that last all day long. Have surgery coming up on shoulder in February afraid of what will come of this if I have to sleep in a way that prevents me from protecting my back.

I can't go to a dentist or sit in a chair at a doctor's office for any length of time without severe repercussions; my last dentist appointment left me sitting in a chair at my home for well over 2 months just trying to contain the sick headaches and vomiting. I'm at a loss at this point I have seen six specialists, a chiropractor, physical therapy an orthopedic surgeons, neurologist 2 neurosurgeon.

We have tried many methods and still all we come up with is it is muscle problem in the upper back, maybe the degenerate bone but no one wants to tackle anything in the thoracic area of the back. Is there any help for me where do I go from here? I have heard a lot of (I don't deal with this area of the back) there are too many nerves.

Hello Joyce,
I just wish folk could be warned that cervical fusion isn't always the panacea that it's proclaimed to be. It's a shame, you're having a lot of grief.

Pain with a deep breath in the midback points to a rib problem, and I see no reason why it shouldn't be treated with chiropractic; however, be warned; if you are having breastbone pain, a heavy manipulation in the midback may aggravate the chest pain; I prefer the "anterior thoracic" technique.

The pain in the underarm, probably travelling down the to the ring finger and pinkie, comes from below the fusion. The C8 or T1 dermatomes; hence the surgery didn't help; or did these start after the surgery?

Are you having any jaw joint pain, just in front of the ear, and often radiating towards the mouth, the eye, sinuses and side of the head? Any popping and clicking? The TMJ is a major cause of headache.

But if you have lower neck subluxations causing all these shoulder and arm symptoms, and midback via the dorsal scapular nerve, then it's not improbable that you have upper cervical problems too, a frequent cause of headache.

You don't tell me how it was before surgery; did the operation help at all, or simply worsen matters? You've had previous trauma I suspect.

Obviously one has to be more gentle after neck surgery, but gentle chiropractic should bring you considerable relief from these problems. A cure is unlikely.

What's needed is a course of gentle chiropractic treatment, and then a monthly maintenance consultation.

Ask for shoulder exercises; perhaps you can avoid that shoulder surgery; the rotator cuff lesion was mostly caused by chronic nerve irritation to the muscles from the area fused.

I hope this contributes.

Dr B

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Interesting challenges of the day

1. Mr S is a 76 year old man with neck pain of some 9 months duration. Luckily, most of the discomfort is upper cervical which is only rarely arthritic; his lower cervical spine is a degenerative mess that I have left alone. After seven treatments his pain and stiffness is 50 percent better, and he is happy in the circumstances. He can sleep through the night now and that makes a huge difference.

2. Mr P is 32 year old man with very severe lower back pain radiating to the big toe which is 30 percent numb. He had an episode three weeks ago, took anti-inflammatories and was soon better as is typical of the medial disc herniation. But before it healed, after a trivia it came roaring back, much worse. The characteristic crossed sign was evident; sitting in a chair, straightening the right leg provoked severe left back pain and tingling in the leg. He is doing well.

3. Severe lower back pain is scary; just ask Mrs P. Just watching her get out of the car I she was in trouble; she had a slipped disc at L4 making her lean towards the opposite side; luckily she had no pain in the leg. Despite family pressure that this was far too severe for a chiropractor, she persevered. Within five days she was standing upright, and after two weeks almost pain-free. 

Despite a hectic job, she wisely took my advice and stayed home for what I call exercising bed rest.

4. Mr S has had lower back, groin and back of thigh and calf pain for fourth months.

He has a pincer deformity in the hip causing the stabs in the groin, and a degenerative facet causing the sciatica. Both are responding well to chiropractic and he is well pleased; sixty-five percent better after three treatments.

5. Mr T is a wise man; he has taken a warning TIA seriously and has lost 15 pounds, and has at least as much again to lose. A change to a low starch diet and half hour daily stroll has made the difference; but the walking is making his foot and back miserable. The expensive orthotic is hopeless; luckily his hips and back are fine, but he needs a simple heel lift; he has a short leg.

6. I too have had serious lower back issues, luckily fixed by my own chiropractor; so I too have to do my exercises, take care when lifting supers full of honey, gardening and using the chainsaw. Regaining the function of your spine is just as important as the pain.

7. My own granddaughter, only 7 is hypermobile giving her pelvic, knee and ankle issues. X-rays show a mildly dysplastic hip. Years ago we would have called it growing pains. She too regularly needs chiropractic care and luckily responds well. Increased range of motion is more difficult than too stiff in my opinion. Our care is for kids too.

8. This 65-year old lady is a serious gardener; every day she is bending, lifting and digging for 2 to 3 hours a day. It regularly catches her in the sacroiliac joint, so she has a treatment once a month that sorts it out. She does her lower back exercises faithfully.

9. This 88-year old lady is an inspiration; every day she is busy in the community. With a nasty scoliosis she manages very well with a chiropractic adjustment every six weeks and exercises faithfully done. 

10. Mr X is a 71-year old retired man who wants to continue with maintenance care every six to eight weeks; he had suffered from two years of lower back pain when he first came a few months ago. He has no discomfort now after 8 chiropractic treatments, but is aware that danger lurks.

11. Mrs C has been having severe headaches, and taking a lot of analgesics. It is a non-complicated upper cervical facet syndrome, and she is doing well.

12. Mr D is a 38-year old year man with chronic shoulder pain after a rotator cuff tear playing cricket. It responded well to treatment, but he knows he must do his exercises every day; for two years he could not sleep on that shoulder.

13. Mr D, a 71-year old man, has a severe ache in the shoulder and midback since working above his head. Trapped nerve tests are negative but he has advanced degenerative joints of Luschka; after just two treatments he is 50 percent better. Can we reach 90?

And so the day goes; chiropractors should not be treating the elderly most medical sites state but that is so much bunkum.

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