Here's my story. I first noticed a problem a few years back -- I would have a numbness / tingling in my left arm whenever I sneezed. Like any good man will do, I ignored it hoping it would go away. I also would experience an extremely stiff neck / shoulders from time to time that I wrote off as stress-related. Time passed and I started getting more numbness / tingling / pain in my left hand and elbow area along with increased frequency of neck stiffness and soreness.
In March, I went to my GP for a physical and mentioned the issues. She sent me to get an xray which showed some spurring, foramen narrowing, and general arthritic conditions, which seemed a little advanced for someone who is only 36 years old. Then she sent me for a cervical MRI. The MRI showed three bulging discs, foramen narrowing, etc. Then I got sent to a physiatrist, went through some physical therapy, had two steroid epidurals, and didn't find much difference. He put me on Lyrica (75mg three times a day) and Mobic as needed. The Lyrica seems to help some and the Mobic only works on the pain when I have it.
The pain, numbness & tingling isn't really all that bad most times. It changes in intensity depending on position and activity. It's tolerable and certainly not debilitating. I also have fairly good strength. It has, however, been getting more noticeable and has started on the right side (hand) as well to a small degree.
I went to see an Ortho who reviewed my MRI films prior to walking into the examining room with me for the first time. After the exam, she expressed surprise that I'm not in worse shape considering what she saw in the MRI. She recommended an artificial disc combined with fusion and suggested that my condition is going to just degenerate over time considering the non-herniated discs don't look all that healthy either. Since my insurance is going to cover artificial disc replacement at this time, I left for a second opinion.
I saw another Ortho who spent all of 5 minutes with me after keeping me waiting for nearly 1.5 hours. He didn't look at the films (only the reports), didn't really listen to me when I said I tried PT and it didn't work (he actually wrote a script for PT saying I should "try it" so he definitely wasn't paying attention) and ended up saying that he didn't think surgery was a good option because he woudn't want to operate on someone who "looks so comfortable". I left his office annoyed and still looking for what I feel is a legit "second" opinion.
I was able to obtain an appointment with a very highly regarded Neurosurgeon who works out of a top hospital. He basically said get the surgery and get it soon because the longer I go, the greater the chance of permanent nerve damage. He would fuse 2 levels -- leaving one bad disc alone because he feels 3 levels would be too much at this point. He said that he and the Neurosurgery Dept do not do any artificial disc replacements because he feels the technology available is sub-par when compared to fusion at this point. (I did further research on this on my own and it appears that what's approved in the US is many years behind what's used in Europe.)
Now I'm confused. I have been advised to get surgery from people who look like they know what they are talking about. They also have implied that waiting until the symptoms get worse (which they say they will) is a bad idea for my long term prognosis. However, as it stands, I can totally live with the symptoms I currently have. They aren't so bad that I *need* to get them taken care of right now, IMO.
However, it seems that my MRI paints an ugly picture and that I'm lucky to not be much worse off considering my condition. Of course, maybe I'm wrong?
I actually made ANOTHER appointment with a top Ortho in the area who works out of another top hospital. Am I being stupid? What advice do you folks have?
Thanks much in advance!!!