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Old 10-08-2011, 07:46 AM   #1
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26 year old with herniated discs in c-spine needs advice, please help!!!

I've been experiencing severe upper back, neck and shoulder pain on my left side for 3 years now, accompanied by numbness, tingling, and decreased motor function in my left arm and hand. I've also suffered from excruciating headaches that always start at the base of my skull, are always worse on the left side and almost always preceeded by visual problems. These were diagnosed as migraines, and I've had them for 9 years, but they've increased in frequency and severity over the last 3 years along with the back, neck and shoulder pain.

I've seen several different doctors; neurologists, orthopedists, and pain management and have undergone several painful procedures without a real diagnosis until finally, my pain management doctor ordered an mri of my c-spine on thursday and found that I have at least 3 herniated discs. The report is not yet finished, so I don't know which vertebrae are affected, how severe it is, or how many I actually have. The doctor just took a quick look, and right away spotted 3 ruptured discs.

Although I've tried several different treatments, many more than once, including trigger point injections, epidural steroid injections, pulsed radio frequency (for the migraines), massage, physical, tens unit and cold laser therapies, I've had no success in even reducing my pain. I am currently taking narcotics to manage my pain, and I'm scheduled for another series of facet injections starting on 10/13, and spread out over the next few weeks. I'm reluctant to try as these didn't work for me before, and were very painful to undergo.

I'm trying to find out as much as I can about treatment options. It seems like surgery may be my only hope at this point, although I want to avoid it if at all possible. I don't want to have to depend on opioid narcotics to manage my pain either. Everything I've read about the condition only seems to cover singular disc herniation, and I can't find anything about treating multiple disc herniations in the cervical spine.
Can anyone tell me if I have any other options, and can anyone tell me about their experiences with herniated discs?
I'd also like to know if my severe headaches could possibly be linked to my diagnosis, does anyone else have that problem?

My doctor says that it's not at all common to see this kind of injury in a person my age, especially someone who is otherwise healthy and very active. Any advice??

 
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Old 10-08-2011, 09:25 AM   #2
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Re: 26 year old with herniated discs in c-spine needs advice, please help!!!

Fortunately, your condition is not at all common in someone so young, although that certainly doesn't help you. Was there some kind of trauma involved, or some kind of work or exercise (overdoing yoga, for example) that might have caused this?

Surgically, treating multi-level cervical problems is not at all unusual. ACDF's - where the surgeon comes in from in front, removes the offending disk(s) and substitutes bone grafts secured by titanium clamps - are the most common. Laminoplasties, which come in from behind and expand the spinal canal (but do not directly address the disk problems), are an alternative, depending on your specific condition. (I've had both)

Your symptoms seem somewhat different from the norm for cervical spinal problems. Most common symptoms are problems in the arms and hands - numbness, shooting pains, and partial paralysis. The same can occur in the legs. Anything like that troubling you? It would be understandable that you might not even notice, if your neck pain is monopolizing your attention.

I'm sorry that someone so young should have to adopt the obsession with health that's normal for older people, but I really think it's best if you educate yourself as best you can about your condition and your options. This means going to boards like this, researching on the Internet, and consulting (and QUESTIONING) multiple doctors. It's best if you educate yourself before talking to the docs, or you're likely to be treated as a passive actor in your own life.

The radiologist's report (printed) that accompanies your MRI would tell people on this board a lot. You can get a copy on request. WOuld it be possible for you to get a copy and post it here?

 
Old 10-08-2011, 12:55 PM   #3
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Re: 26 year old with herniated discs in c-spine needs advice, please help!!!

Thanks, WebDozer

I don't yet have the MRI report, I had it done just this Thursday morning and they said it would take 2-4 working days to have the report ready. I did obtain a copy of the images, and took them to my doctor's appointment that afternoon and it was then that my doctor told me right away she could see at least 3 ruptured discs. I don't know which vertebrae are affected, how severe it is, or what else it could show, but as soon as I know I will post.
My doctor also ordered a scoliosis series of x-rays because I was diagnosed with a mild curvature when I was 13, and it doesn't seem to have progressed but it's still evident. At the time she ordered the tests I thought maybe this had something to do with my problems because they've always only affected the left side of my body.

The initial trauma could have been any number of things because I've always been very athletically active, and just as accident prone, and there's no telling how long I've had this because this is the first time since the problems began to get out of control 3 years ago that I've had an MRI done of my c-spine. So here goes...
*In 2003 I was tackled from behind in a football game, and tumbled for about 7 yards and I ended up in the hospital with bruised kidneys. I didn't notice any back or neck problems, but this was the same year I began getting migraines.
*In 2005 I was playing soccer and my feet got swept out from under me and the first parts of me to hit the ground were my head, neck and shoulders. I lost consciousness for a short amount of time and ended up spending the night in the hospital with a concussion. They did x-rays but found no other apparent trauma.
*In 2007 I was going to school for dance, and during a routine floor exercise, I dislocated my left shoulder. Months later I was still having moderate to severe shoulder pain, and an arthrogram MRI showed an impingement and the orthopedist determined that the joint was very unstable, and the wear and tear looked like that of a 60 year old and I would require surgery to tighten up the ligaments. I opted to strengthen the joint with physical therapy instead and have not since followed up, since it's no longer my chief complaint.
*In 2008 I went snowboarding and broke my tailbone, and in the same year, also while snowboarding, a man twice my size speeding out of control crashed into me as I was standing still, and sent me tumbling down the slope. I didn't sustain any serious injuries, I only noticed a few bruises on my knees.
*Shortly after that, I became pregnant, and aside from some mild sciatic pain, this is the last time I can remember being pain free. This is also the longest I've ever gone without having a migraine since I was first diagnosed in 2003.
In December of 2008, my daughter was born, and while I was breast feeding, I began to notice numbness, tingling and soreness in my upper back just to the left of my spine radiating out to my shoulder, neck and base of my skull. I figured it was just from my slouched posture while breastfeeding. The soreness never went away, and the numbness and tingling soon started to affect my left hand, and I began to feel what I can only describe as nerve pain in a small spot in my upper back just to the left of my spine. It was sharp, shooting pain, and at times it felt like I was being poked with burning hot needles, and other times felt like ice cold water dripping on my back, but more than anything it was always just so painful. It still hurts on a daily basis and since then has gotten progressively worse, especially with the migraines that have increased in frequency and severity since my back, neck, and shoulder pain started. Because of this I wonder if these headaches have anything to do with the ruptured dics.

For 3 years now I've been bounced around to several doctors, and the sad thing is that because of my age and level of activity, most doctors wouldn't take a closer look at me, because it's just not common for someone my age to have such constant and severe pain, I was constantly written off as a drug seeker. And although I've asked several doctors if an MRI might be able to tell us what's causing these problems, I was often told it would just be a waste of time and money, because there was nothing physically wrong with me, that this was all in my head, just a physical manifestation of my anxiety problems, and I just needed to find a more effective way of dealing with my stress, but I knew it was the pain causing my stress and anxiety, not the other way around.
It's still so surreal to me to finally have a doctor listen to me and to finally have a ligitimate diagnosis and concrete evidence that I was right all along. I feel vindicated! It's great to finally know what's causing this so I can begin to take steps to correct it.
I wish I had found these message boards sooner, it's been great these past couple days getting feedback from people who have been where I am now and can help me navigate through the tough road ahead. For the first time in a long time, I have hope that I will finally be able to come out of this and feel good again, and I don't feel alone anymore.

Thanks again for your input and support!

 
Old 10-08-2011, 04:28 PM   #4
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Re: 26 year old with herniated discs in c-spine needs advice, please help!!!

Thanks for the response. Any of those accidents where your chin was forced downward COULD have resulted in herniated disks, I suppose, especially if you were for some other reason already susceptible. When you picture it, you'll see that such an action would compress the front of the vertebral column and open the rear of it, simultaneously putting unnatural pressure on the disks and allowing them somewhere to be pushed by that pressure (back into your spinal column). Maybe that happened, and maybe you're just suffering from a more chronic condition, although your youth would argue for the former.

I certainly hope that your MRI indicates some cause of your pain. Let's not be too hopeful, though. As I said, your symptoms seem to have a lot less to do with extremities than most conditions I've read about. (just for example, my problems have caused symptoms in both arms and both legs, but never once a headache) I suppose there are any number of other conditions that could result in your symptoms. Hopefully, they will be more recognizable to someone else on this board.

 
Old 10-08-2011, 04:29 PM   #5
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Re: 26 year old with herniated discs in c-spine needs advice, please help!!!

Hi, sorry to hear you are going through so much pain, and for so long.
Since you have gone through so many treatments already, the only advice I can think to give you is to keep researching and learn all you can about your condition, and the treatment options available, especially the outcome of these treatments.

The injections are known to be short term, and not a cure, it is completely up to you to decide weather or not you want to go through them. This is usually suggested only if they helped you before.

I have had these in the past. Even when they didn't help at all, they wanted to do more and I refused.

Once you have tried about every treatment option and it has stopped working and you are still have many problems, the last resort is surgery, but I think it sounds scarier than it is.

About your injuries years ago, severe injuries that strain the neck can cause problems years later. Whiplash in a car accident is what caused my neck problems today, 12 years later. I now have 2 large bone spurs because of the accident.
I read that whiplash is the most common cause of this.
I was told a year ago that I will eventually need neck surgery, which may be very soon as I am having problems with walking now.

We all do what we can to try and avoid surgery but eventually it gets to where we have no choice, because we end up living around our pain, it takes over our lives, I understand where you are coming from. I have lived around my back and neck problems for years and am now immobile once again, so I now look forward to having the surgery, so I can have a life again.

Just keep reading and learning about your condition, and don't feel pressured into any treatments you are not confortable with or have no faith in. You will eventually know what you want to try. Also, please make sure you get a 2nd opinion from a neurosurgeon if you have not seen one yet. They specialize in this. Good luck to you.

Last edited by Kasey443; 10-08-2011 at 04:36 PM.

 
Old 10-08-2011, 04:40 PM   #6
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Re: oops...

I just noticed that you mentioned "decreased mobility" in your left hand. There you go.... a classic sign of a cervical spinal problem! I used to have right-hand problems, and I think I still do sometimes, especially if I'm chilled. The test would be to just move all your fingers as fast as possible and compare one hand to the other.

I had a C3-4 ACDF 15 years ago and the hand problem went away, although some of the other symptoms persist somewhat.

I still don't see the connection to migraines, but just because fixing your spinal problems may not help your headaches is not sufficient reason for inaction.

Let me just add one thing, which may be in conflict with what others here believe, and likely also in conflict with what some doctors will tell you. If surgery IS what you need, you do NOT want to waste time with things like injections, traction and PT. The reason you don't is that symptoms can become permanent if allowed to persist for too long. There's still a lot of reluctance to operate out there, even among doctors, but the safety and efficacy of cervical spinal operations has outgrown people's attitudes.

So be careful, but don't waste any time.

Last edited by WebDozer; 10-08-2011 at 04:48 PM.

 
Old 10-09-2011, 10:50 AM   #7
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Re: oops...

Webdozer gives very good advice.
I went through 6 months of therapy, injections, etc. only to still be immobile, and was still hesitating on surgery.
I only had it because my husband pointed out that I was not getting better and I realized I had been living around my back problem nonstop, and this was daily.
It controlled every aspect of my life.
I realized if I didnt do something different I would be living this way for the next 40 years.
I am now in that position once again and have appointments coming up to see what can be done.
Good advice is not to sit on it too long with one treatment after another when they did not really help in the past.

 
Old 10-10-2011, 02:59 PM   #8
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Re: 26 year old with herniated discs in c-spine needs advice, please help!!!

Hello! I am truly feeling your pain! I was diagnosed with a congenital fusion of c-spine 5-7 earlier this year. Then a new MRI showed a herniated disc above the fusion. I also have a congenital anomoly where my spinal sac is severly narrowed. Im also on narcotics for pain. I was diagnosed with migraines in 1990 when I was injured in a car accident & broke my nose & neck (w/out) paralysis. My migraines have continuously gotten worse. I'm on 3 meds to keep them at bay & 2 different narcotics for on-set. They now believe it is due the pressure on my nerves & spinal cord - the stenosis, bone spurs & herniated disc. I have a migraine to some degree everyday. They just difer in severity. I too have loss of motor functions, tingling & numbness in my limbs. Mainly the left side. The left side of my face is numb almost 24 hours a day now. But after finding out about the pressure on my nerves & cord, they believe it is all related to that. Ive been having tests done for other possible causes, but nothing yet. Unfortunately, my mother is a PA for one of the spine doctors where I was seen. We do not get along & as I'm a 41 yr. old mother of 3 - I wanted to do this on my own without her intervention. The doctors there however found more reason to question me about my mother & our relationship than any medical questions. After filing a complaint about 1 that was truly cruel & unprofessional no one at that university in any building will see me or treat me any longer. My gp believed I needed surgery as he had another patient with same diagnosis & surgery gave her an almost complete recovery - with no more migraines. My mother did not want me to ahve surgery which caused problems as her doctors were her co-workers. My gp is supossed to be trying to find me another specialist to see but my insurance is limited. After reading so many post on this site & being able to relate to everyone with the same problems, I absolutely believe that all is caused from the compressed nerves & surgery needs to be done. I read in one post on here that if left untreated, the problems (loss of mobility, motor functions & migraines) will only progress & become permanent. In 1990 they offered me surgery (but the diagnosis was different) but I felt at that time that the risks were too high. Now in hindsight, I almost wish I had consented. But please explore all your options & if surgery is needed try to find the strength to go thru with it. It scares me to death, but it scares me more to think of living the rest of my life like this or worse! And I've personally met a couple people who had the surgery & are all the better for it. Medicine has come such a long way & I've done so much research that I truly believe the benefits outweigh the risks. I wish the best for you & let me know what they tell you about the correlation with your migraines. I'll keep you in my prayers!
Heather

 
Old 10-10-2011, 04:11 PM   #9
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Re: 26 year old with herniated discs in c-spine needs advice, please help!!!

Heather... perhaps you can start up a new thread detailing your problems and what you are doing about them. I would like to hear more, specifically about that "congenital fusion".

 
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