In a previous post, I whined a lot about my long, inclusive list of health issues. (Sorry about that.) 😉
This post is an update on one of the issues I’m currently dealing with: the symptoms that pointed glaringly at the all-too-real likelihood of a cervical disc herniation.
As some of y’all know, this ordeal began back in July 2015, after waking up one morning, unable to move my head much. I had pain radiating down my arm, stopping just shy of my elbow. It also referred down into my shoulder blade.
But pain lies. Pain is ninja-like and misleading. The arm and shoulder blade were merely taking the blame for an issue that originated somewhere else: the real guilty party resided somewhere in the neck region.
At first, we thought I had merely slept wrong, or maybe had failed to move enough throughout the night (that happens to me; I often wake up in exactly the same position in which I went to sleep). And when I stay in one position for too long, my muscles and fascia tighten up and trigger points ensue. Trigger points are the little buggers that mimic other problems, causing pain in other places, while rarely hurting on their own, usually not even revealing their true identities.
So, my partner went to work and worked his magic. He released all my fascia and worked out the trigger points. He was pretty successful. After that, however, the true nature of the issue was revealed, by the pins-and-needles tingling that radiated down into my fingers. Since only the thumb, index, and ring fingers were involved, we knew that the problem lay somewhere with the nerve roots, a single one to be exact: C5-6 or C6-7; we couldn’t quite tell which.
We hit the textbooks in our office library, reviewing what had become fuzzy in our memories over the years, with newfound interest: it was suddenly pertinent, outside of its role as a potential exam question.
Everything we read pointed to the real probability of a cervical (neck) vertebral disc herniation, meaning that the filling in the Double Stuff Oreo cookie had squeezed out, poking through the fibers holding it in place.
Except that I hadn’t done anything. Except that I had no major recent accident, nor even a great story to tell.
Except that that doesn’t matter, especially when you have EDS (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome). I had this issue anyway, great storytelling or not.
Normally, as in about 90% of these cases, the disc heals up on its own, in a matter of a month or two.
My symptoms took three and a half months to subside, and they only did so with the help of some very experimental treatment.
But despite the dissipation of symptoms, I would have to be careful, and I would have to keep a close watch over it all, to make sure it didn’t come back on me and flare up again.
Two years went by; so far, so good, no problem. I got this.
Until a couple weeks ago. It flared up, a little at first. I hope it would go away, subside again.
It didn’t. In fact, it kept getting worse. For the past two weeks, it has been active again, and for the past several days, the pain has gotten worse and worse each day.
Finally, I asked my partner to order me the MRI. An MRI would reveal all.
Today, I had the MRI. I fully expected them to find a cervical disc herniation.
Which they did. Obviously, I was not surprised.
What did surprise me was how bad it was.
They (the imaging professionals) saw it right away. Unbeknownst to me, as I was laying in the (closed–eeeek!) MRI machine (which was relatively uneventful and only lasted 12 minutes), they called my partner into the room to watch.
As the images came in, it was clearly evident. The radiologist down the hall, an earthy, intelligent lady, already had the images pulled up on her screen as I came schlepping down the hall, cradling my elbow in my other hand, as the slight downward pull of gravity spelled agony for me.
She gently shook my good hand. The expression on her face was pained. “I’m Dr [so-and-so]. I’m sorry for the circumstances.”
I knew I was in pain, but didn’t know the full extent of what she was getting at.
My expression must have told her all she needed to know, too, because in a purely concerned manner, she asked, “what happened?”
Equally helpless, I said, “I don’t know; I just woke up this way one morning.”
She wasted no time. As tactfully and clearly as possible, she explained that I do indeed have a cervical disc herniation, at the C6-7 level (OK, so that answers that question), and that it was particularly severe.
She pointed to the images on the screen and showed me exactly where it was; it had indeed herniated back and to the left, just like we thought.
The measurements taken of the extent of the herniation itself said 4.3mm (millimeters), which, when you’re talking about a space that is rather small and intricate, and given all the (important) structures that that small space contains (like, oh, the spinal canal, which houses the spinal cord, and the nerve roots coming off the spine to travel down your arm and shoulder), that’s a big number. And the bigger the number, the more severe the herniation.
She showed me where there was stenosis (narrowing of the spinal cord itself) and impingement (pushing) or blocking of the foramina (the little bony openings on each side of the vertebrae where the nerve roots come out) by the herniated disc material. I had both going on.
Then she said that she sees stuff come through every day; people who have a little pain here or a little twinge there, and they have a history of a motor vehicle accident, but that this was worse. The vibe was such that if she had felt free to say “holy shit”, she would have.
This situation was quickly revealing itself to be much more serious than I had anticipated. But it did explain the mounting pain that I was (and still am) experiencing (which is getting worse every day).
She went on to say that she was pretty conservative when it came to recommending surgery.
And then promptly, still gently, gave me the name of the area’s top neurosurgeon, who does some kind of newer procedure that is far better than a cervical fusion.
I was one of the fewer than 10% whose cervical disc hernations would likely need surgery.
My partner decided to go ahead and order a traction table, which is considered a more conservative line of treatment for this problem. He had gotten wind that there was a demand for this procedure, by those in a position similar to mine, and this news clinched the deal. His mind was made up. I’m in full support, of course.
Having seen the writing on the wall, he had begun the purchase process yesterday, obtaining the financing. Today he decided on a table and made the purchase.
The traction table will arrive next week.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed!
Stay tuned. 🙂