While cervical surgery is quite safe, as with any surgery, there are some risks. One possible consequence of cervical spine surgery is hand numbness. Hand numbness after cervical spine surgery may happen, and it can be frightening to patients who may not be prepared for it. Fortunately, hand numbness after cervical spine surgery usually goes away on its own in time. Nevertheless, this article provides what you need to know if you do experience hand numbness after cervical spine surgery.
Hand numbness after cervical spine surgery is caused by a problem in the neck, not in the hand. Hand numbness is actually due to a problem with the nerves that cross from the hand and arm across the cervical spine and into the spinal cord. In most cases, hand numbness after cervical spine surgery is caused by inflammation around these nerves in the neck. Rarely, the numbness is caused by an injury to the nerve itself.
The best steps you can take to deal with hand numbness after cervical spine surgery is to be patient. In most cases, the numbness will improve with time. You may be tempted to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help the swelling go down. Talk to your spine surgeon before taking NSAIDs. NSAIDs may increase the risk of bleeding and may slow down bone healing.
Tell your spine surgeon about numbness and any other residual symptoms at your first follow-up appointment 1-2 weeks after cervical spine surgery. Your spine surgeon will want to follow this symptom to make sure it improves. If it doesn’t, additional testing may be needed to identify to source of the problem; however, this is rarely needed.
If your numbness seems to be getting worse instead of better, contact your spine surgeon. If you lose bladder or bowel control—which is extremely rare—seek medical help immediately.
The best way to prevent further hand numbness is to follow your post-surgery (discharge) instructions. If you were provided with a neck brace or collar, wear it as directed. Your instructions will list the activities you should avoid as you heal. Follow these instructions carefully because heavy lifting or big stresses on the neck could further inflame the cervical spine and make the numbness worse.
Hand numbness may last days to weeks after the procedure, which is how long it usually takes for the inflammation to subside and for nerve function to return to normal. If numbness lasts for more than 3 months and sometimes up to one year, it is possible that one of the nerves in the neck is still irritated or compressed. This is more common after cervical spinal fusion surgery but could still happen after cervical artificial disc replacement surgery. If the nerve has been damaged, it may take months or even years for the numbness to resolve, or the numbness could be permanent.
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