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  Back to previous page ¦ Neurosurgery stories ¦ Search stories

'I can do things again'

Neck surgery eases patient's pain
Erin Wooten used to be a hiker, a biker and horseback rider who ran five miles a day and took a two-week scuba diving vacation at least twice a year.

In recent years, however, injuries kept her on the sideline.

“My horse is sitting in the pasture,” she said.

However, the 53-year-old recently found relief from the pain in her neck and arms after having a new type of neck surgery done by a Sanford Health neurosurgeon.

She had numbness in her arms extending to her fingers and pain in the neck extending between her shoulder blades.

“It was annoying,” she said. “I was having spastic trembling of my hands. I’d be grasping an object, and I’d get that spastic trembling and almost literally drop what I had in my hand.”

She’d already had a disc removed and the bones fused together—a procedure called a fusion—after a 1995 car accident. But the disc below the fusion was breaking down, causing her pain, numbness and tingling.

  Erin Wooten is thankful to lift weights again.
Erin Wooten is thankful she can lift weights again following neck surgery at Sanford Health.
My surgeon didn’t think it was a good idea to do another fusion because it “probably wouldn’t take,”Wooten said. Traditionally, surgeons will do a fusion, removing the offending disc and fusing the bones together, but the discs above and below the fusion wear out much faster. Often, patients are left with severely constricted range of motion in their neck. Artificial discs are a good alternative for patients who primarily have arm and hand neuropathy, meaning the nerves are involved.

In Wooten’s case, the Sanford surgeon thought it best to replace a disc below a two-level fusion. Surgeons have been doing single-level fusions for years, but it’s unusual to do multiple levels.

Wooten’s neck ended up being in worse shape than the MRI indicated, she said. After her surgery in September 2010, though, she immediately could feel the difference. The numbness was gone, and she had full range of motion in her neck.

“It has worked absolutely wonderfully,”Wooten said. “It’s been unbelievable, the difference.” She said her neck has fully recovered from surgery.

“I can move my head, and I can move my neck. I don’t have the pain, the numbness,”Wooten said. “I have strength back in my hands. If I grab your hand now, I’ve got ya. I’ve got that power back.”

She’s begun lifting weights, working on her upper body, core, neck and arms. She is restricted from wearing a helmet—so no more motorcycling.

“It’s actually given me something to do,” she said. “Now I can do things again.”

Click here for more information on Sanford's’s neurosurgery department.


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