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691233 tn?1228734020

need diagnosis and help

I am a 40 year old female.  I have had my share of car accidents in the past, but nothing recent. About three and a half years ago I was in a hurry and threw my head back quickly when I was gargling.  It felt like something snapped.  Since that day, I have had nothing but problems.  According to my MRI's and X-rays, I have the following problems:

Straightening of the cervical and lumbar spine, two bulging discs at, I think, C5 and C6, extra bone growth on two cervical  vertebrae, two vertebrae that have shifted (one forward, one back) at the same site as the bulges, narrowing of the facet joints or foramen (wherever the nerves thread through).

I have chronic muscle spasms and pain in my neck and shoulders.  Most of the pain is on the left side.  X-rays from the front view show my head tilted sideways a little when I was trying my hardest to hold it perfectly straight.  I have been to three different physical therapists with a variety of treatments, and just started seeing a chiropractor. I have done Korean Yoga and accupuncture, as well as home traction with an over the door water bag.  I have been seeing a pain management doctor for almost three years now.  I have had 4 epidural injections around the facet joints and radiofrequency in many locations in the cervical spine, along with  many trigger point injections in my shoulders.  I tried to get them in my neck but it made it worse..  My cervical range of mobility is very small.  My shoulders look like I am holding them up all the time (and they feel that way too) The are constantly sore and full of knots. My neck is constantly stiff and it hurts just to hold my head up. If I tilt my head sideways, there is a series of cracks. I am a teacher and need to constantly look down to read, grade papers, etc. which makes it even worse. I try to sit in a way that I can put books, and papers higher up in front of me.  I use heat a lot and have tried ice but it gets worse.  The chiropractor said I have the spine of a 55 year old.  My report said I have degenerative disc disease and I don't remember what else.  My most recent "diagnosis" from the Chiropractor is this:  He said I need to get the curve back in my neck by laying on a rolled up towel and that my neck muscles and ligaments  in the back are too stretched out and the muscles and ligaments in the front are too short.  He said if I hang my head upside down off the edge of my bed or roll back on an excercise ball and stay there for 20 min. each day, that my discs will go back to where they belong and my pain should go away.  He sounds like he doesn't really know what he is talking about but of course I can't be sure.  I have been told by two therapists that my ribs are out of place.  One guy said that one of my legs is much shorter than the other.  I have been on Vicodin and Soma for almost 3 years and have to take Protonix for excessive stomach acid.  I have also been on antidepressants since I was 26. I have had low back pain since I was a teenager.  Sometimes I can't step down without a sharp pain in my lower back.  I get hip pain sometimes as well.   My mother and uncle have severe spine problems as well.

Here are  my questions:  Can this be genetic? What is wrong with me and what can be done about it?  I am looking for something more permanent than all these temporary fixes that hardly work and only last 1-3 days if that. My quality of life is in the toilet.  I can't lift or bend without paying a steep price for the next few days. I am always irritable and just want to be left alone.  Please help.
8 Responses
387767 tn?1345875627
Hi, I am sorry for what you're going through.  I have all kinds of problems with my neck and back also.  The newest thing is pain in my low back going down my buttocks and legs.  I also was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which causes muscle pain all over.  It sounds like you could have fibro along with your back issues, but I don't know.

When I had the MRI of my cervical spine they found 2 herniated discs, kyphosis, arthritis and degeneration.  But the specialist told me that it is normal to have some degeneration in your spine, even as early as 15 yrs.   He said not to jump into surgery unless you have exhausted all the non-invasive techniques, similar to what you're doing.

For my neck I did the PT twice and also take muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatories.  I also have arthritis in my knees, which makes the low back stuff worse.  I am getting an MRI tomorrow, actually, to check on my low back/butt pain because I want to know what it is.  I can't do anything without pain there, even walking.  

I know what you mean when you say your quality of life is bad.  I feel the same way.  I can tell you that I don't think throwing your head back caused all of this.  I think it's just genetics, like you said.

The one thing you haven't mentioned is if you have been to a rheumatologist, just to check that you don't have anything like RA or some auto-immune disease.  It would be worth it.  Because if you have that, there are effective treatments.  They can also diagnose fibro.

The chiropractor, I don't know.  I haven't been to one YET.  I might try it though.  You could try a different chiro, just for a second opinion.  I have heard about hanging the head backwards, though.  So he may be right about that.

I wish I had more answers, but I don't.  I can empathize with you.
Avatar universal
Totally understand what you are going through.  I myself have been in a few auto accidents and ten years ago I had 2 spinal fusions c3/c4 and c5/c6 within a year of each other. Recovered well and went on with my life.  I also work in a classroom but as an assistant.  Slowly as the years went on my life seemed somewhat normal. I continued to have numbness and aching in my left arm but was told it was nerve damage.  My neurologist told me that it may never go away.  So about three years ago my symptoms slowly began to worsen.  Having osteoarthritis already,  I thought it was just something I was going to have to live with.  Talk about depression....as the pain continued to get worse I didn't want to continue living with it all.  I never thought of ending my life but I definitely wanted help.  I saw my MD for depression and also fessed up to the constant pain I was in.  He scheduled an MRI because of the neck history and the results were shocking.  My spinal cord was actually being flattened from the damage in my neck.  The diagnosis was cervical stenosis with myelopathy.  Since the pressure on my spinal cord could cause severe damage, I was recommended to a nearby neurosurgeon.  This one was absolutely fantastic.  Surgery was scheduled and last May I had a laminectomy with fusion and instrumentation of the c3 to t1 level.  The back portion (lamina) was permanently removed.  Both sides of the spine were fused in all joints and two rods were secured on both sides of my neck with six sets of slide through bolts.  I can't begin to tell you how happy I am with the results achieved.  I have been given back my life.  I am no longer in constant pain.  In fact, I couldn't tell on a day to day basis that surgery was even performed.  Recovery was a little rough though and wearing that hard collar for 7 weeks was no fun either.  I lost some of the mobility in my neck but not as much as I thought I would.  I went through rehab and continue exercising at home.  I am still not released for all activity, and find some things harder to do than others.  Rather than looking down all the time with students and or papers, I have learned to modify how I work.  I use a slantboard for grading and I get down at the kids level with a smaller chair to help them.  I have to be careful because I seem to be trying to make up for lost time and don't want to hurt myself again.  Sure, I will always have to be careful of the "hardware" and will always have limitations, but I have gained a life back I didn't have before.  I also thought I could be suffering from fibromyalgia but since the surgery my aches and pains have gone away.  DR says it would take something catastrophic to reinjure anything.  I even managed to slip and fall at school, since the surgery, without reinjuring my neck. I hope you continue searching out and weighing all your options and I hope you can find relief.  Your story resembled mine so much and I just wanted you to know that there are doctors and procedures that can help.  I also have medical issues besides the neck problems but I listened to my doctors and all went well.  As far as genetics, it is possible to have a "weakness or predisposition" to neck problems.  My mother and her father (my grandpa) both had cervical fusions done in the same area as I originally did.  Neither had the extensive third surgery that I had, though.  Our daughter who is 28 has just been diagnosed with the same c3/c4 and c5/c6 problem.  She is currently consulting with my neurosurgeon and weighing her options.  Well, I hope this lets you know there is hope out there.  Surgery may seem extreme but I am one who can sing its praises.        
691233 tn?1228734020
Thanks for your reply.

I think I will try a  rheumatologist.  I haven't gone back to the chiropractor. It makes me nervous to have my neck cracked (adjusted).  I have heard of people having strokes because of it.

I am starting to really think I have arthritis. I have pain in my right fingers, right knee, right hip, and now my right ankle is starting get stiff and when I stretch it it cracks. It could be part of the problem in my neck too.  It cracks and crunches all of the time.

Are you going to get an MRI on your lower back?  I have had pain there since I was very young.  Curiously though my Xray showed normal disc spacing so I never got an MRI.  Good luck.  I hope it isn't serious.
691233 tn?1228734020
Thanks so much for your reply.  It sounds like you have really got your neck problem under control.  I am wondering if they ever offered you artificial discs?  I have read that they are doing that now. Do the screws, etc. allow for mobility?  I know you said you lost some of that. Did all of this releive the pressure on your spinal cord and help with numbness and tingling?  Was it really nerve damage or just pressure.  Some of these doctors nowadays will not try very hard to get to the bottom of what is really going on.  I am glad you found a good doc.  

I'll tell ya, it seems like it is a chore just to hold my head up all of the time.  I think what you have had done sounds like a real solution.  I tried to get an appointment at Barrows but they are scheduling into March right now.  I guess I can wait.

Another question I have is this:  they say that fusions can eventually add more stress to the areas above and below and wear those out.  Did your doctor mention this or does the rods and screws support you enough so that this won't happen?
620923 tn?1452919248
...going to a NL is a good start...u said u had MRI's...from the report u mention it sounds like ur cervical spine and lumbar spine had the MRI...what about ur thoracic spine?...or ur brain?....do u have copies of all MRI's and reports?...it will be much easier to go from dr to dr if u have copies....u will need all that's been done already to go to the NL.

I would also suggest u have the cervical spine MRI reviewed....there r conditions that some radiologists do not report because they believe to be incidental, but can be life altering!!

Good luck
667923 tn?1421466324
        I am so glad there is hope 4 me. I suffer just like u did. When my day even begins my neck is stiff and in pain...all through my shoulders. I suffer from head to toe. I feel this is the answer 4 me as well, but I have been to 3 or more NL and they won't do anything. I am seeing an Ortho Tues. and I am going to start by telling him how it all started. I had an ACD & F spinal diskectomy (C5-C6),back in Feb.'06 and it started w/my right arm burning and shoulders and neck pain. He said that my surgery was fine and there was nothing that he(NS) could do. Now. since I saw him 9 out of 11 months in the same year, I felt I wasn't getting anywhere and couldn't work for pain. He put me on Lyrica and I was afraid of it with good reason. It caused me to have inflammation in my whole body and gained 80lbs. of misery on top of my pain.
     I went ahead and had 3 ESI's like u had, but u said u have 4. I wouldn't do another one after the last one I had when they hit something to make me jump literally almost off the table. The doc called it "Friction", but I saw the fear that he had done something. I sure hope he hasn't caused me to have a two-fold problem. I have been reading if u get injected in ur spinal cord it can cause something called "ARACHNOIDITIS"...Please GOD noooo.. I just hope mine can be fixed like urs. I am willing to go into surgery NOW.
     I think, and we know r bodies and how something is definately more wrong than being dx w/Fibro or the DDD's of Cerivical, Lumbar & Hip/Joint..Spinal Stenosis. and the list goes on. I truly believe that if they would go in they would do the same surgery u had. I have some artifact that is hiding what is going on. I think they have to just label something to justify what is going on w/u. I pray that this Orho will get to the bottom of it. I am so glad u found it and I hope I get the same results. I have two boys and mom just can't even pick up a piece of paper on the floor w/out paying 4 it. So, I truly believe that u have answered my situation.
     Let me tell u this one b4 I go. I have a friend that is a Chiro and he wouldn't touch me bc he said that I had a nerve that was placed in between a space and pinched. IT needed to come out he said. I know he wouldn't lie to me and he said that I would lose the use of my arms/legs and that is exactly what is happening. IT has been 2 yrs. since he told me this and I can't raise my arms from my side and my legs/feet are killing me. My knees suffer...my feet are so sore. Are these some of ur symptoms. I also have muscle atrophy in my legs. It is weird. I have these rings forming around the muscle part of my shins. They are deep and u can visibly see them w/out trying to find it, but most of my pain is in my neck/back. SO stiff and mobility is limited. Tight muscles to where I have to use a TENS unit they get soooo tight. OHHH I just hope this doc is the one who is going to fix me. I just want to go fishing or just be able to tickle my son a little instead of moaning everytime he even touches me.I just want to do so much and can't...SO HARD not to be busy..can't, lying in bed, do much of nothing.
      I am just so happy 4 u and pray that I can get the same results. I am tired of living on my heating pad and taking the meds that I do just to get thru a day. I have to wear a Fentanyl Patch, take Norco for breakthrough pain, Neurontin<<better than Lyrica 4 me since It seems like I don't have the severity of pain when time to change my patch like I did w/Lyrica. I am scared of that drug now since heard of bad things that has happened. There are a few that have been hospitalised bc of it. I will never take it again and have taken it 4 almost 3 yrs. No telling what it has done to me internally .I would be so glad if I didn't have to take all of that med. anymore. IT would be great if I didn't have to take anything...Do u have to take anything now?
     U take care and keep giving us hope 4 a good future w/out pain. Well, I would be happy just to live a life instead of my life being in bed all the time..GOD BLESS and keep me in ur prayers. I am glad to hear of good things here and good results...it gives us all some hope and we need that soooo much.  Karen
     Where is ur doc located? I am willing to travel. I am so desperate to get back up on my feet again. I don't like being in pain all the time...who does...:)
Hey to u tooo SELMA...hope ur doing well. Always..GOD BLESS u too.
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