Hi Belemilus...SpineAZ asked me to come over and explain the MRI a little better. I kind of give anatomy lessons.
So you have this spine made up of vertebrae and in between each vertebra is a disk of material that is "squishy" and acts as a cushion for the bones. It had a tough covering but it can break down and let the squishy stuff out and it kind of oozes but is still pretty thick and hard even when out of it's covering. That is a herniated disk. You also get bone spurs all over the place just from normal aging. These are called osteophytes.
Down through the middle of the bones is a space for the spinal cord to go. The cord is oval shaped at the neck level. It is surrounded by a thick covering that contains spinal fluid. At each vertebra, a pair of spinal nerves peels off the cord like a peeling banana and goes out to the body. The hole in the bone where the nerves go out is called the foramina. It's when something presses on these spinal nerves that you get so much pain going down your arms. The spinal cord doesn't feel pain just like the brain doesn't so you don't feel when that is being compressed. And compression is expressed as minimal, mild, moderate, severe and occasionally, very severe.
So let's look at your summary.
1-you have moderate degeneration at C5-6 and mild above that. The worst degeneration is from a bad disk that had ruptured and has oozed out and has moderately blocked the nerves leaving for your arms. It is worse on the left. Degeneration is a fancy way of saying that you have arthritis and a bad disk and everything looks bad....or moderately bad and mildly bad above that.
2-again at C5-6, the disk that oozed out had also pushed up against the spinal cord. Reading further, it says it shows the cord is slightly indented but shows no signs of damage nor did they say the cord was smaller than it should be. So the cord is pushed up against but not indented or injured.
3-the hole where the nerves exit the bone are moderately closed up on both sides of C5-6 and mild to moderately closed up at C3-4, worse on the right. As was previously noted, the lower area was slightly worse on the left. Have to balance the misery you know
4-you have some mild arthritis of the facet joints. These are joints on the sides of the vertebrae that are involved with any kind of twisting motion. Probably hurts to turn your head.
5-the bones are okay...no fractures, the area where your spine joins your head is okay and the cord looks just fine. Some good news for once
You definitely have problems and I can see why your arms hurt so badly. But this can be fixed. I imagine the neurosurgeon will recommend that they do what we call here an ACDF....anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. They go in through the front of your neck with a microscope and remove the oozing disk, then to keep everything good, they fuse the 2 vertebrae together with screws and a plate. Whether he'll recommend doing just C5-6 or wants to include C3-4 and C4-5, I don't know but they are not bad yet and with all the new surgeries coming along, you might be fine with just doing the 1 level. At the same time, he can open up the holes where you have the compression on the nerves and clean up some of the arthrits and other problems as he finds them.
If you read some of the other posts, you'll see that lots of folks have this surgery and return to work just fine. But get the best spine doc you can. I usually recommend you get at least 2 opinions unless you really like and trust doc#1. It seems there is a direct correlation between the expertise of the surgeon and the outcome. Whether it's an orthopedic spine surgeon or neuro-spine surgeon, it should be someone who does nothing but spine surgery.
You do need surgery but it is pretty common these days so don't worry. It's not that bad. I've got 6 vertebrae fused and can do a lot of things I used to but I need to lie down more often. Can still pick up my 30 pound granddaughter. Did quit working but I also have rheumatoid arthritis and my doc was adamant that I do. I think you'll be just fine.
Any questions, we are here.