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cervical disk herniation and dizziness
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cervical disk herniation and dizziness

I have confirmed multiple cervical disk herations by MRI. The herniations were considered mild and did not require surgery. Pain is not much of a problem, but dizziness and cognitive impairment are getting increasingly worse. The more mucsle tension/discomfort I have in my neck the more dizzy I get. I also feel very "fuzzy headed". It makes it hard to carry out my regular daily activities. Is this normal? Is there anything I can do? Thank you for any advice. Diane
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First of all, keep in mind that I am unable to diagnose you because I am unable to examine you, this forum is for educational purposes. There is a condition called cerviogenic dizziness (dizziness caused by neck problems), but this is a diagnosis of exclusion, after other causes of dizziness have been ruled out.  Certainly it is not normal to have cognitive problems due to cervical disc disease.  
   One possibility is that you are having migraines that are precipitated by your neck.  Migraine can present in strange ways at times, with dizziness and confusional spells (even without a headache).  Another possibility would be a tumor that is in the cerebro-pontine angle (often associated with unilateral hearing loss and tinnitus [ringing in the ear]as well as dizziness, but does not have to be). Depression can also lead to a fuzzy headed type cognitive impairment without other signs.
  Given the symptoms you describe I would recommend:

a MRI of your brain with and without Contrast, to evaluate for mass lesions, tumor, demyelinating disease etc.  

Physical therapy of your neck, by a person trained to treat cervicogenic dizziness.

Formal neuro-psych testing to evaluate your cognitive complaints.

Speak to your neurologist reguarding a trial on a migraine preventative medication and/or anti-depressant.  A medication that may work for both is Elavil or Pamelor 25mg given at night.

I hope this has been helpful.
After reviewing past responses and other sources, could the symptoms I described in my previous post be related to migraine or tension headaches? I do not have an aura, though I do have difficulty being able to focus. I constantly want to close my eyes, even though I am not tired. The other problem is I very rarely have a headache when these other symptoms occur. Can you still have migraines/tension headaches without an actual headache? Or should I be faulting the herniated disks for this problem? All of the problems I have mentioned only occur when my neck is bothering me. If I am having a "good neck day" all symptoms are gone. Thanks again for any advice or suggestions you have. Diane

I am not a doctor but I wanted to respond to your post.  In my case the C3/C4 level caused SEVERE headaches and pain.  I was originally diagnosed with cervicogenic headaches with variant migraines.  I totally understand about the dizziness as well.  From what I was told basically ANYTHING going on in your neck can cause the symptoms you speak of.  Anyway, this went on for about 3 years.  EVERY DAY I had severe headaches and was put on all kinds meds which simply added to the dizziness and that then led to bad panic attacks.  Anyway, this is not meant to scare you at all because I did have a fusion done of the C3/C4 which TOTALLY stopped all of the headaches!  And I don't regret having the surgery at all.  Now, the C5/C6 was bad at the same time but it has been two years and I am about ready to go for surgery on that level.  And, yes, there were good days and bad days.  Sometimes the muscles contract so hard, I term them spasms that it really brought on a headache.  Anyway, I hope this helps.  Hang in there.
Thank you so much for your reply. It helps to know someone else has gone through the dizziness. I have done so much reading about herniated disks, but dizzines is never mentioned. I know I am not imagining these symptoms. The dizziness can be so debilitating. I will be fine one minute, then miserable the next. I am currently taking Ibuprofen 600mg three times a day, without much relief. I was hoping by decreasing any inflammation the problems would all resolve. I will keep trying. Thanks again for your input. Diane
Try treatment with an axial traction harness three to six times a day for several minutes at a time. They can be obtained without prescription for about $35. You need to get the inflammation down with ibuprufin and begin range of motion exercises moving your head around until you hear "crackeling".

I forgot to ask if you have seen a Neurologist for the disc problems and/or a spine specialist.  The traction and anti-inflammatories are good ideas.  But, PLEASE check with your doctor(s) first.  I did the traction and went the anti-inflammatory route and it helped just a little.  But the minute I got out of the traction unit the same old pain would come back and the anti-inflammatories just tore up my stomach.  I think my problems were probably more severe than yours since you say they are mild herniations and don't warrant surgery.  The docs also had me on an anti-dizziness med like Meclizine that helped.  But again, I am VERY sensitive to most all meds so I was sick most of the time. You could try some massage therapy or even accupuncture.  Both of those helped to loosed up the muscles.  I guess I have been through so much with the neck stuff that I don't do ANYTHING unless I check with the spine docs first.  I hope you can get some answers to this as the dizziness is difficult to combat. :)
I too have vertigo; mine accompanies a Right posterolateral disc bulge at C5/6 w/rightC6 nevre root impingement and a central disc bulge at C7. At least I hope that's what it is. I go to my neuro dr next week to see what can be done because it's VERY annoying and I'm getting short on sleep as it happens in the bed all the time. I guess I could sleep on my face!
I hope you get some relief.  As for the dizziness, I have 2 herniated cervical disks (C5/6 & 6/7), stenonis, and degenerative disk disease.  Dizziness is definitely a problem when my neck is inflamed.  Cognitive impairment is a huge issue when I am upright.  I have also met others with herniated cervical disks, who complain of dizziness.  Just thought you would want to know.
Hi. I too suffered with incapicating dizziness for months. I was diagnosed with, and had surgery for, Chiari I Malformation. The dizziness stopped for a few months, but then returned.  I am now going to physical therapy and it is helping a lot. The dizziness they believe, is from my neck muscles that run down each side of my neck.  I am careful now of posture and try not to do tasks that I know may bring the dizziness on, like heavy lifting, etc. 5mg of Valium helps a lot when it gets very bad.  I have "moderately severe left facet osteoarthropathy at C3-4 and C4-5" but don't know what that means. My neurosurgeon did not mention this to me. I'm going to bring the copy of the MRI to my PT next week and she what she says. I do have a lot of problems with my neck and shoulders now post-surgery.  Good luck and feel better.

It's amazing how many of us out there have so many of the same symptoms!  Until I'd gone through all of this myself, I had no IDEA how common it was!  I started out a year ago with dizziness/lightheadedness as my primary symptom, causing what I referred to as "brown-outs"...never really passing out, but coming close enough to scare the daylights out of me (that's really bad when you're driving!).  Secondary symptoms of neck & shoulder pain & stiffness that I just passed off as arthritis.  Anyway, long-story-short..I went through 2 months of physical therapy, and was tested for everything via MRI's, EKG's, EEG's, ultrasounds, blood workups, X-rays, etc., for tumors, brain/spinal abnormalities, thyroid issues, aneurysms, cancer, diabetes, anemia, carotid artery blockages, heart problems, MS, ALS, Lyme name it, they checked for it.  The only "finding" was from the MRI, which showed two herniations at C5-6 & C6-7, some stenosis, and degenerative disc disease.  I had fusion surgery at both levels this past April.  Two months post-surgery, none of the original symptoms had abated except the actual neck pain.  Well, 1 out of 3 ain't bad, except the lightheadedness/dizziness thing was dibilitating, as it keeps one from driving, living a normal life, etc.  Went through another 8 weeks of physical therapy which made it worse, but hey, at least I have definition in my shoulder & bicep muscles now.  Went through a second series of MRI & physical abnormalities.  I was referred by my neurosurgeon to a neurologist who specializes in rehabilitation.  He put me on Elavil 3 weeks ago, & I haven't had a "brown-out" since.  I still have occasional mild achiness & tingling in my neck & shoulders that may or may not ever go away completely, but it's mostly an's not "painful" and it's not that frequent.  

Hang in'll reach the point where you'd be willing to glue feathers on your head, flap your arms & cluck like a chicken if your doctor says it may help, but you WILL eventually find something that will help you...don't give up!
Let me give some background information: 17 years ago, when I was a US Army officer, I "injured" myself, through nothing specifically, and started experiencing severe chest pains. Military doctors said it was probably a severe muscle pull and I went about my business as usual.

Within the next 2 months, I experienced progressive muscle tension in the back of the neck and upper back. One day, when driving a car, I had shooting, electric sensations that ran up and down my neck, going into the head. The muscles also became tighter. In the next 2 months, this developed into a chronic condition, whereby I would get:

1) varying degrees of tension headaches...light tension on the sides ( temples ), forehead, and back of the head.

2) pins and needles stabbing and soreness throughout the head...which especially was concentrated in the back of the head where the spine meets the skull...which felt really tender, sore, and on fire during acute episodes.

3) Very light shooting electric sensations that were spontaneous throughout the head, mostly on the side temples and the top of the head...occasionally on the forehead.

4) But, I wouldn't have any neck pain for the next 15 years or so. It was all mostly a function of the above described head pain.

Army medical staff never was able to diagnose anything, suggesting that it might even be psychosomatic. Hence, I learned to live with and control my symptoms, especially through exercise. For 15 years I had managed to live an "excellent" quality of life. Although the symptoms rarely went away completely, my life was characterized by interludes of good days between bad days when the pain was severe. The bad days sometimes lasted a month or so, but I also experienced up to 3 months of good days.

Nevertheless, even with the severest pain, I never was so debilitated that I had to miss work. I never had too much trouble falling asleep. I was able to succeed in my profession and get married and generally pursue life. At some point, in 1997, I went to a Sports Clinic and they cat scanned my neck. They discovered some herniation at C5/C6. The doctor wanted to stay conservative and prescribed Physical Therapy...which I did diligently, complementing my already althletic lifestyle of running, calisthentics, and soccer.

The physical therapy certainly helped when I had the good days. It lessened the overall tension, tightness, and pain...on a scale of 1 - 10...from 2 or 3 to a 1. However, it did nothing on the bad days pain, which was about a 7. I did not pursue any more medical care after the physical therapy was over.

Well, around 2 years ago, I noticed that the bad days were happening a bit more frequently. I also started getting more tension and pain in my jaws, eyes, and facial area. As usual, I was able to "beat back" the pain by intense exercise. What I meany by this is that the electrical, shooting, and burning were alleviated, but I still had muscular tension in all the aforementioned areas. I also started noticing that I sometimes had slight difficulty opening my eyes when after I closed them in these past 2 years. The pressure/tension was increasing or so it seeemed.

About 1 year ago, I had a really bad episode that lasted a little over a month. For the 1st time ever, I had trouble getting to sleep, although I managed to do so, but immediately experienced pain when I woke up. This prompted me to go back to the same sports clinic. I explained how this time something really was worse. We took an MRI of the brain and entire cervical spine. I was diagnosed with:

1) severe spinal stenosis at C5-C6.

2) severe disk at C5-C6.

3) Impingment on the spinal cord at C5-C6.

4) Bone spurring.

5) Slight degenerative disk disease at C3-C4.

As a layman, I was shocked that I had these conditions. My doctor recommended surgical consultation, which I did at UCSF, which has a good reputation for neurosurgery and neurology. They recommended that I have an anterior cervical disk fusion with spinal decompression and "cleaning" bone spurs. The UCSF doctor indicated that the procedure was basically a sure thing, given that I was in excellent health and relatively young at 40 years of age. My sports clinic doctor concurred. Friends of mine whom are doctors concurred.

Well, I had procedures at UCSF 7 months ago. The first 3 months were extremely difficult, as I was in agnozing head and neck pain. I stayed off pain killers as these induced panic attacks and horrific nightmares. I occassionally took a valium, changing out for flexeril, which allowed me to at least sleep.

Starting 4 months ago, I got better relative to the 1st 3 months. However, I am still in what I consider to be a worse condition than before surgery. I can characterize my state as the following:

1) I have no more electrical shooting sensations throughout the head...which is good.

2) I no longer get concentrated aching & and burning sensations thoughout the head...which is good.

3) I can see, hear, smell, taste and think more clearly...which is good.

4) I do get same pre-surgery intense tightening, stiffness, and achiness, but punctuated by a post-srugery deep stinging pain often enough. Again, there isn't the electrical pins and needles feeling anymore, but the remaining symptoms are worse in intensity than before the surgery.

5) I also have a high degree of this 24x7, impacting even my sleep...which was not the case before the surgery.

6) Rapid movement, especially through aerobic exercise exacerbates the pain. In fact, walking causes perceptible tightening around the temples, forehead, and top of the head. It typically gets worse at the end of the day, right before bed.

7) I get cheek tension and pain, which again ranges in intensity depending on my physical activity and how much overall tightess has increased.

8) I get increased tension and perceptible pain when I open and close my eyes, which again ranges in intensity depending on overall tightnes.

9) I get occasional naseau and a general sickly feeling when the tension is acute.

10) For the 1st time in 17 years, after this surgery, I now get accompanying neck muscle stiffness and tightness in conjunction with the most acute head pain...and additionally, I get significant ear pain and ear ringing with this.

If there is a definitive way I can characterize my current condition, it is that now I have interludes of bad days between good days. I am always hurting, to a significant degree. It is dramatically impacting the quality of my life. Sports are out of the question for now. I have trouble even doing simple things, like cooking or washing the dishes.

I do work and am productive, as I have a white collar job that isn't too physically demanding. However, I hate the idea of this being my state of being for the rest of my life. My UCSF surgeon said that things should clear up. He gave a 90% chance of my head tension going away due time. The UCSF nuerosurgeon nurses and my sports clinic say 1 year to 18 months is about right.

Whew! After all of this, I come to ask for advice here. Can I expect to get better? Should I pursue this more aggressively, as I seem worse in terms of pain than before the surgery? I see my UCSF neurosurgeon next Thursday.

Also, could this be something beyond having had a herniated C5-C6 disk, which now has been corrected, compressing my spinal cord? My MRI last year indicated mild disk degenerative disease at C3-C4, so could this be impacted by this surgery? I just cannot understand why I should have more tension and sensitivity now the herniation and spinal compression have been relieved.

I take no drugs but an occasional flexeril, maybe half a pill every 2 or 3 weeks for a good night sleep...again, flexeril almost completely relieves the tension and hence the pain.

I am afraid to take pain killers for fear of dependency and having to take increased dosages over time. I confess that some stories alarmed me regarding post fusion surgeries, especially when I read about patients requiring morphine type drugs to cope with the pain. I don't want to go down that route.

Any advice on complementary experiences and solutions would would be appreciated. I was heartened by Kathy's posts here, as they indicate great success with the Fusion surgery. I have not yet experienced such success. I am starting to wonder after 7 months, but I have faith in God, myself, my wife, my family, and my doctors that we can achieve a good solution.

Thanks in advance!
Ohh geez, I just found this site yesterday and I am so glad that I did. It is so nice to be able to share common issue's.

I must say while what I am going through is nothing like written so far except the neck/shoulder pain, mild head aches and congnitive thinking process issues. And as stated above I have constant aching pain in my neck/shoulder/head/mid back that varies some days tolerable (pain scale 3) and some days horrible (pain scale 7-8). My left hand palm,and digit 4 & 5 fingers constantly asleep (tingly and burn when touched) and many times I wake up with both arms fallen completely asleep and tingly. Constant major weakness in my neck/shoulder/arms.

I had a work injury in January that basically turned my life upside down. I was diagnosed with cervical/thoracic muscle sprain/strain and had xrays (01/12/06) done which showed inferior cervical lordosis with torticollis, DDD C5-6 and cervical strain/mild mid thoracic spondylosis with evidence of thoracic strain.

Being it is a work injury I basically have to see the doctors they tell me to, which I do not like at all.

I was sent to a rehabilitation doctor/therapist in May that started my traction. Traction has never done anything for me, if anything it made the pain worse. I went through 16 traction sessions and no improvement. Seeing no improvement and having my 4th and 5th digit fingers and palm of my hand go completely numb I basically demanded an MRI of at least my cervical spine be done. The MRI (06/15/08)which resulted in the following impressions:DDD C5-6 Broad based dorsal endplate hypertrophy and annular bulging, mild spinal canal narrowing (9mm) Straightening and reversal of the cervical curvature.

The doctor tells me that there is absolutely nothing they can do for me. They do not know why PT hasn't helped and why I am still in so much pain. He has basically told me that I will just have to live with the pain.I was given a TENS unit to use to help eleiviate the pain and am currently taking 800 mg ibuprofen 1-3 times a day and skelaxin to help me sleep (flexiryl gave me the hives).  

I just know there is something wrong with me and it is like no one will listen. I have gone through bouts of depression not wanting to go through this the rest of my life. I am a single (widowed) mom with 2 childred and I cannot even keep up with my children and my home on a daily basis, let alone look for work. I just wish I could find someone else who had gone through what I am and help me through it. I wish the doctors could find the problem and fix it. I wish God would open a door and lead me through to where i need to go.

Oh wow ... TY all so very much for just listening. Writing it out helps so very much in and of itself. And I sincerely hope that those having similiar issues find resolve and are able to lead normal productive lives again.

White female age 47

You sound like you were in my state when I first started experiencing these symptoms. To be honest, I could have lived with the pain I had, as bad as it was getting. However, this has to be tempered by the fact that I had significant spinal compression.

I am not sure that surgery was the best choice I made, as I am in worse pain in its aftermath. To be sure, time will tell as I am "only" 7 months out of surgery. My doctors remain confident that the pain should go away in the next year or so.

My advice is not to elect for surgery if it is a matter of pain only. If your condition will degenerate from nerve/functional standpoint, then my opinion is that surgery can be considered. Again, I basically had no choice. I fought this for 17 years, but things came to a head when I experienced some paralysis in my legs. Like I said, if it was pain alone, I could have lived with my pre-surgical condition.

Nevertheless, as others here have noted, I wouldn't give up trying to find a solution to manage your condition. In particular, I am considering a specific type of traction device. Check the following web site:

I contacted one of the testimonials and he asbolutely backed the product. You never know.

Best of luck.
BanMate -

From everything I have read and heard, surgery is a last resort. I hope that you find that you are successful with yours after ample healing time.

Traction makes things worse for me. The PT told me that it would alleviate the pain but it never did after 16 applications. I believe that the problem at least for me is 2 fold #1 The lordosis (straightening/reversal of the cervical curvature. #2. The 9mm narrowing of the thecal sac. These are just layman assumptions on my part of course, but they are the only assumptions I have to go on.

There are other minor things that are irritating me but cause spontaneous pain that subsides if I make no movement. Such as the crackling and popping that I hear when I move my neck ... at first they told me it was arthritis and then the PT told me that it could very well be my facets rubbing each other due to the lordosis. Also I can no longer enjoy any food I have to chew the pain in the back of my head and jaw is just overwhelming. My symptoms just keep getting worse ... and it feels hopeless sometimes.

I asked both the doctor and PT about massage therapy. The PT said it would be okay to give it a try but no deep tissue massage. The doctor contradicted the PT and said that deep tissue massage would be okay. I have no authorization to seek massage therapy so until I do it is really not an option. Which is terrible because I know that if my spasm shoulder and neck muscles could relax, I could be pain free.

My TENs unit has helped a lot to reduce my medicinal intake and for that I am grateful. I too do not like the long term affects of drugs, but I can't seem to get away from trying anything to relieve the pain.

I have read that pain tolerances are not only age relavent but gender as well. I have always considered myself a person even though female with a high tolerance to pain. I have had 6 children and 4 of them were au natural ;). But at least with that pain, and most pain for that matter you know it is going to not last forever.

When the doctors tell you that the clinical findings do not match the level of pain you are having and there is nothing else they can do for you ... I guess you have no choice but to deal with the pain. I just can't do that, out there somewhere the answer I am seeking exists ... so giving up hope is really not an option either.

I cannot fathom having to endure this for the length of time that you have .... honestly I cant. I keep thinking that there is something not showing up on all the tests that is causing my pain and I am dealing with un cooperative medical personnel that is getting me no where. I know I can be wrong in that thinking as well ... but I can't help thinking it.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to respond. Take Care & GB
I agree that you should never cease from trying to find a solution. Likewise, I too am not going to relent from finding out ways to manage and diminish my post-surgical pain. As I did in my previous 17 year pre-surgery days, I found ways to manage and live comfortably, mostly through physical exercise.

Likewise, through trial and error with my physical therapist, I am finding that certain physical activity exacerbates my pain while others help alleviate it. I still cannot do intense vibration generating activities like running or playing soccer, which jar my neck. I can however stretch, do isometrics, lift weights, and stationary bike. I am learning to adapt.

I also don't want to paint a totally negative picture. I am better at 7 months than I was at 3 months. Typing used to cause me pain at 3 months, generating vibrations that I felt throughout my neck and head. Not so anymore.

Also, in the past month, if I control my movements and motions, limiting the jarring of my head, I have been able to have 3 or 4 consecutive days with relative low levels of pain.

Unfortunately, when I have a so called "attack", it is excruciatingly my head is being squeezed by a vise with stinging sensations, with muscle tension in my neck as well. That is when all the symptoms converge to the nth degree. I had these "attacks" pre-surgery, although they were less intense. I still have no idea what causes them.

My goal for now is to get back to where I was pre-surgery...where I have mostly lower levels of pain and relatively few "attacks". Interestingly enough, pre-surgery the "attacks" could last a month or so, believe it or not. Now I get relief by laying down and meditating, applying some bio-feedback type techniques. I hope to eventually eliminate these "attacks" altogether.

One last thing: prayer helps me as well. At the very least, I am coming to terms spiritually with my condition. I also have faith that the body of science and medicine will advance to help relieve the suffering of people like us. If not, maybe for the next generation.

For all the money invested in weaponry, imagine what such investment could yield with regards to medical fields?

Sorry for the tangents. :)))

All the best!
I too have suffered for many years with both lumbar and cervical pain.  I had a anterior lumbar cage fusion at L5S1 nine years ago and have been in debilatating pain since.  No one could find anything wrong so I lived with it.  I had to go on disability.  15 years ago I had a car accident and had bulging discs at C5-C6 and C6-C7.  About a year ago I fell and a week later I had severe migraines and numbness and weakness of my right hand.  I went thru EMG's and MRI's and the orthopedic doc wanted to do a anterior fusion of 2 levels in my neck.  The neurosurgeon said No, it was way too soon.  He put me in a hard collar for 6 weeks.  My pain and weakness got worse and worse and I rarely had a minute without a severe headache.  It made me so depressed.  I couldn't leave the house and had to call on anyone I could to drive me to the doctor since my husband travels.

While searching the internet I came across Dr. Bonati.  He is trained as a neurosurgeon and orthopedic surgeon.  Since seeing him I have had 5 outpatient procedures using an arthroscope and laser.  My low back pain is completely gone. My neck pain is significantly improved.  He feels with one more minor procedure my pain may disappear completely.  I am an RN and did my homework before seeing Dr. Bonati in Hudson, Florida.  He has been the answer to my prayers.  The procedures are painful because you are awake but sedated.  It is well worth the 30 or 40 minutes of severe surgical pain to relieve years of suffering.  He wants you awake so you can report if he gets close to a nerve.  He has a website  He has seminars all over the world.  Everytime I was at the Bonati Institute I met people from all over the U.S.  For most patients it is the last resort.  I have not met a patient yet that didn't have good results. Look into it, it may be the answer for you too.
Thanx for info on Bonati, will investigate.

I just want everyone to know the massage works and you should try it. Also, all massage therapists do work differently. Deep tissue is great but you must ask them to work into it and not just jump on you with a normal (to them) session. Expect it to hurt up to 48 hours after seesion. It will be achy but it will help. Expect to go once a week or even twice when you neck gets used to it. More later. Have to go. cheeps
Tampa Girl,

Interestingly enough, I am learning of laser surgery myself. I sure wish I had looked into this before I had my spinal fusion, as it seems laser surgery would have addressed the same issues without the accompanying trauma.

I am very interested in getting more information from you on your experiences. My email is ***@****, if you care to make a contact.

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