September 20, 2013

In other news ...

Since the end of July, I have been experiencing severe pain in my neck, left shoulder and left arm, and weakness in my left arm. At first I thought it was simple muscle strain from sleeping wrong, tension or physical activity, etc. But after a week of the pain getting worse instead of better, I went to a chiropractor. He took x-rays and reported seeing signs of disk degeneration, cervical (neck) spine curving the wrong way, arthritis, misalignment ... Some serious issues! But he assured me with just a few weeks of coming to his office, he could cure me! I was freaked out enough to go see a spinal dr before proceeding with any other treatments. The spine dr prescribed medication for the pain, but was most concerned about the weakness in my left arm - an indication of damage to the nerves. I had an MRI done, which showed a herniated disk at C6-C7, with much of the disk material protruding out the left side where the spinal root comes out, sending signals to the left triceps muscle. He said surgery will be necessary almost immediately to prevent further nerve damage. He recommended ACDF surgery, which involves removing the disk and fusing together the vertebrae above and below. This came as a big shock, as I was mentally still thinking of this as a small problem that would go away pretty much on its own. 

I researched drs and set up appts for a second and third opinion. In the meantime, I had an epidural spinal steroid injection to reduce inflammation and pain. Visiting the second and third drs was enlightening.  They both also said that my exam and the scans point towards surgery being the most likely outcome, but that they would not recommend ACDF. Cervical disk replacement is a newer, less limiting, more favorable surgical option. The recovery time is faster, and the ability to lead an active lifestyle is greater. The last dr we saw, Dr. Cattorini, suggested there are some conservative treatment options yet to explore before we determine surgery is absolutely necessary. This includes a series of 2 more steroid injections, along with physical therapy and cervical traction.

I am in the process of this right now. Physical therapy is going well, and that was the first non-pharmaceutical thing that started to help with the pain. The initial steroid injection did not help at all. I got a lot of relief from the second one. I am in the per-op room right now waiting to go in for my third and final injection. In tow weeks, I will return to Dr. Cattorini to assess progress and see if we can avoid surgery. So right now I am feeling good overall.  The pain is much less than what it was when this all first started. I am down to taking pain medicine 0-1 times per day, usually later in the afternoon as the activity and strain of the day builds up. I know the issue is there still because I feel it in my neck/shoulder blade area and down my arm, especially my forearm. But it is not nearly as intense as before, and for that I am grateful. 

At this point I don't know how this story will end, but I do feel confident that we are doing everything we can to help this resolve without surgery, and ultimately if these things don't work, then surgery may be necessary to enable the nerve to rebuild conductivity to my left triceps, and to make the pain go away for good. 

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