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MRI looking for MS reveals something unexpected

jdcattjjdcatt Posts: 18
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:50 AM in New Member Introductions
Hello, I am a 38 year old married mother of 3 who is busy scouring the internet trying to learn all I can about cervical spine issues.

I've been seeing a neurologist since August for vertigo, muscle issues, temporary urine leakage and paresthesias. Both my family doc and neurologist mentioned MS to me and I've been busy since August having test after test performed trying to figure out what's going on with me, trying to figure out if it is MS or possibly Lymes or B12 deficiency or anything else that could explain my symptoms. I've had a brain MRI, a VNG, an EMG on my right side and tons and tons of blood work done. Everything but the VNG came out perfectly normal, I had some nystagmus show up during the test which indicated a problem with my right vestibular system but the test apparently could not pinpoint the cause, it just showed there was a problem.

I developed an intense vibration sensation in my lower left leg and foot in October and by November I was feeling it in my arms and lower back/hip/groin region as well. Neurologist didn't like this so he ordered an MRI of my cervical spine. No lesions were found but some things that totally caught me off guard did show up.

Apparently I have a broad based anterior spondylitic ridge flattening the thecal sac at C4-5 as well as associated focal disc protrusion.

At C5-6 there is a broad based spondylitic ridge.

At C6-7 there is a focal disc protrusion superimposed on broad based spondylitic ridge abutting the anterior surface of the cord.

No spinal stenosis or neural foraminal compromise. ( How can there be no spinal stenosis if there is something abutting my cord??? )

Wow, not what I was expecting at all! I've known for 20 years that I may end up with problems in my cervical spine when a chiropractor told me I had a pencil straight neck and may have problem with it in my future but I've never had much trouble with my neck so never gave his comments much thought over the past several years. I was in a very minor car accident 20 years ago and went to see this chiropractor for x-rays just to make sure everything was ok.

Thinking back the only thing that stands out is a burning I get on my left shoulder blade which I attributed to tissue damage from the accident. The burning has been around for 20 years though, so I've gotten used to it and never thought to tie it into my current symptoms.

Currently I experience muscle spasms and muscle pain, like a needle is stuck in my muscle. Vibration, tingling (sometimes painful) and burning on my toes and face. There are other things I experience also but I don't want to jabber on to much.

So from what I've read it sounds like I have arthritis in my neck? And the cervical ridges must be like bony overgrowths? I'll be seeing my neurologist next week on Monday to go over the results and will of course ask him these things also. The one thing that keeps crossing my mind though is this cervical ridging must be something that takes years to develop and I'm wondering if I'm to young for this? I'm 38 and think 38 might be a bit on the young side for cervical arthritis?

I'd like to ask one more question really quick. "Abutting" my spinal cord sounds like no small matter to me. I mean, there is something touching my spinal cord! How scary is that? Very! Is there ever a time when "abutting the spinal cord" may not be as serious as it sounds? I'm doing pretty good at remaining calm, I have to keep reminding myself that it may not be as bad as it sounds, but I am worried. What does my future hold for me?

I do have lower back issues, but that's another story for now. I am wondering now though if lots of people with spine issues have issues in multiple areas. From what I've read so far here on this forum I think so.

I'm looking forward to learning all I can from everyone here and am so glad you all take time out of your lives to post here and share your experiences. Thank you.


  • First let me say welcome to spine-health have a look around and you will see many cervical spine patients here, including myself. AS far as what your MRI really says, that is best left up to the doctors. Many doctors won't really use the radiologist report but look at the films themselves.

    AS far as the question of you being to young for arthritis in your spine, your not really. Typically after the age of 25 our spines will show wear and tear on them. So don't get to caught up on that.

    AS far as abutting the spinal cord, keep in mind you have a very strong layer protecting the cord. So while it maybe near it there it may or may not be in any pressure on it.

    One of the things you brought up was some urine leakage, which that needs to be dealt with a urologist. There are test they can run, such as a urogynamics study to fine the exact reasoning why.

    If I were in your shoes I would begin keeping a journal of the pain your feeling and what type of activities your doing. This will better equip your doctors with ways to help you.

    As far as what actually caused your spine issues maybe something you will never know, some just wake up with it, while others get here from trauma.

    Just thought I would stop by and welcome you to spine-health. keep us posted on how the appointment goes and what you find out. Take care.
  • Thank you tamtam. It's good to know that the arthritis is typical for my age, makes me feel a little more "normal" and a little less "broken".

    And I didn't know the spinal cord is protected by a tough outer layer, I was very glad to read that!

    I did mention the urine leakage to my gynecologist and she said if I wasn't already seeing a neurologist she'd refer me to one. She never mentioned a urologist. My neurologist didn't think anything of the urine leakage. If it happens again I will remember your advice.

    Thank you for the welcome and for the reply. :-)
  • Howdy and Welcome aboard!!! Like Tamtam said, it's best to wait and see what the surgeon has to say. I know mine 'glances' at the radiologist report, but he views my MRI images himself for determination.

    From my experiences if I may? When my C5/6 started going, the disk too went posterior, and abutted the cord. Once it got to were there was 'indenting' and I was getting more symptomatic, they strongly suggested surgery for me. When it was 'abutting' only with no deformity, they weren't too worried. Like Tamtam said, the Thecal sac is pretty hardy. It all comes down to what your body is telling them, +plus+ the tests they have you undergo and their results.

    Shoulder blade burning. When my C6/7 went, my right lower half of my shoulder blade felt like it was on fire big time! Along with it, I had pain down my triceps and into my forearm down to my hand and middle two fingers. The big concern on that level was the instant weakness I had in my right arm. This level went fast, fast enough that it in the end caused permanent nerve damage for me, where as the C5/6 (to me) was a 100% recovery after that surgery.

    In part some of what I'm trying to help you with is that none of us are the same, and even with a seemingly messy MRI, all may turn out fine. Oddly there are some people out there with really nasty MRI's, and get this; NO symptoms! Weird huh? :)

    From reading your post, I can see you like many of us are doing your research. Can't ask for better than that! Please keep us posted on how it goes. I too am a neuro puzzle that they are trouble shooting. Fingers crossed for ya. Again, Welcome aboard!!

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • Hi Jdcatt, In ref: You asked how can there be no stenosis if there is something abuthingnthe cord. I think stenosis is only if the nerve is traped as if the nerve dont have enough room. Pressure on the cord itself would be totaly diferent medical term is what comes to mind on that question.

    Good luck and keep us informed

    Flexicore ADR 2004 resulting nerve damage l4l5 Fusion 2006 same level, 2009 hardware removal with lami !
    2012 scs implant ,
  • Hi Brenda, thank you for sharing your experience. Were you concerned at all that the docs wanted you to wait it out at first? Did they want you to wait to see if it resolved on it's own? That is something that concerns me. If I am told to wait I don't want to end up with permanent damage like you did.

    I have been having some nerve like pain in my arms, mostly the left, and wrists/hands. For instance I will get a painful tingling in my left hand pinky finger that radiates down the outer side of my hand. I have issues with my first finger and thumb on that hand as well as my thumb and middle finger on the right hand. The pain is at a level that I can tolerate, I think because the episodes are so very short lasting. I don't know if I would feel that it was tolerable though if this became something that became longer lasting and more widespread.

    Sometimes I wonder if it's really my neck causing my symptoms and sometimes feel very doubtful that it is because I have almost no pain in my neck itself. I just get a little sore at times. Very recently though I experienced a very painful sensation on the lower left side of the back of my neck that felt like someone was pressing a thumb tack into me. That stopped me in my tracks. Then I felt it in my middle toe on my left foot a few days later. So now I am wondering if it is indeed nerve pain from my neck. It's odd that something going on in my neck could affect my lower body like that. If that is what's going on that is.

    I have no weakness at all anywhere so that kind of makes me doubtful also. I guess I'll have to see what my neurologist says and go from there. I suppose it's possible that I'm just not to that point yet. Maybe I am in the early stages.

    Thank you for explaining how these things can be so different from person to person. It's interesting that someone with a really messed up spine can feel no symptoms. I guess we are all wired differently.

    Thank you for your response Brenda and I hope you and your docs figure out what's going on with you. Not knowing sucks! :-)

  • Alex, hello and thank you for the welcome. Thank you also for the clarification. I assumed that the spinal canal must be narrowed in order for something to be touching the cord. I will definitely report back after seeing my neurologist. I'm just hoping I won't be hearing that there is once again no explanation for my symptoms. Gah! It's been a quite a ride so far, lol!
  • Welcome to Spine-Health. I'm glad you're doing your research and are getting help from these forums. The articles and videos are also great in helping to understand somewhat of what's going on. You'll never really know until you talk to your neuro, hopefully anyway.

    I'm also a neckie first, backie second. My cervical symptoms began with stabbing pain in the middle of my back due to muscle spasms. Are you on muscle relaxants? Sometimes the spasms can feel like a needle or a hot poker, and it's your muscles trying to carry a load it doesn't want to, so they rebel with pain.

    I also had symptoms down both my arms, tingling 24/7 in my right arm and pain and weakness so bad in my left arm that I couldn't lift a glass of water.

    I tried PT for six weeks after my PCP took an x-ray, but when that didn't work, she sent me for an MRI. After looking at the films, she sent me to a surgeon. He wouldn't try any conservative measures as I had bone on bone in my neck (no discs left), stenosis and spurs indenting my cord. Thus the symptoms down the arms. So I had a 3-lvl ACDF three months later. Oddly, all the docs and I think it all started with a bad car accident I had 30 years ago where I was thrown into the windshield (no seatbelt). Odd that the symptoms didn't show up until so much later and then have it all be so bad.

    I also don't think that you're too young for arthritis. Some of us have it worse in the spine than others, it all just depends. And with stenosis, it's generally from arthritis closing up the spaces where the nerves go through the bone in the spine.

    So, that's my story. It sounds like you're in good hands and if the neuro isn't worried about the urinary issue, then that in itself is good news.

    Take care and please keep us posted.
  • Jdcatt,

    You're Welcome! When my C5/6 started going initially, the hernia was small (2 or 3mm), and my Neurologist, and too the Neurosurgeon had me try a few conservative treatments to see *if* it might resolve itself. I had already on my own tried chiropractor (used him for years quite successfully), TENS, message, ice/heat, and PT. My surgeon added ESI's (which didn't work) and then sent me for and EMG/NCV. A new MRI was also taken in a positional MRI - the hernia was a tad bigger, and now you could see the cord was being affected (indented). So yes, the short of it was the hope of getting it to shrink back in.

    Now for that level, I didn't have any permanent nerve damage. That happened when my C6/7 disk went. If you picture one of those fat rubber bands? Stretch it back, and snap it hard against say... your leg? That is sort of what I felt when that sucker went. Nerves aren't big on being smacked - so that is most likely when that damage occurred. For this, EMG study prior to surgery was almost identical 6 months post surgery.

    Weakness is a symptom that neuro's don't like when it comes to nerves. Function and pain are the next they don't like. Tingles and numb aren't high on the list of worry with mine (doctors) so far.

    As for your toes and such. It could be you have a nerve in your lower back getting fussy? If I stand straight (military type posture straight), my 3 middle toes on both feet go numb, but MRI wise, the levels in my back *with* issues are higher up, and those nerves don't cover those toes! So I guess what I'm getting at, I guess some positions create transient problems? The human body is an interesting and still evolving machine eh? (G)

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • Thank you again Brenda. Can you tell me what TENS and ESI are? Also, I've had an EMG but what is NCV? Is that nerve conduction ________? I can't remember the last part of that. Are an EMG and NCV basically the same type of test?

    Sorry for all the questions. It's obvious I'm a newbie, lol! :-)

    Thank you again for telling me some of your story. I'm taking mental notes on what others have experienced pain/symptom wise to sort of help me figure/sort out my own stuff.
  • Hi Cathie, thank you for the welcome. No, I'm not on muscle relaxants at this time. I don't know if my shoulder pain is muscle or nerve related. I hope to get that sorted out soon because it is occurring more frequently now. Which has me worried. It seems the painful symptoms, which came on about a month ago, are actually starting to speed up over just the past week. Before this it was only odd sensory symptoms like vibration and tingles. Well, except for the last year of muscle pain from about my bra line down, which continues.

    And oh my gosh I've been reading your guys' signature lines and wow! It looks as if so many of you guys have really been through the wringer!

    Thank you to you also for sharing and explaining some of this stuff. I really appreciate it.

  • Well, I met with my neuro Monday to go over my MRI. It didn't turn out to well.

    First, while I was in the exam room waiting for him while he was in his office looking at my MRI disc I heard him dial up the hospital where I had the MRI done and heard him chew out the radiologist that wrote up the report for my MRI. The exam room I was in is right next to his office so I could hear bits and pieces of the convo.

    When he came into the exam room to see he told me he was very upset with the report. He said it was very incomplete. Apparently I have stenosis and that wasn't mentioned on the report. He explained that the stenosis coupled with my spurring and protrusions is not good at all. He also said that he doesn't think my cord is being abutted but actually compressed. He kept shaking his head and sighing out loud, he seemed really frustrated with my report.

    I don't understand a lot of what's going on so I'm not sure just how bad it really is but he made it sound like I'm in rough shape. Actually he came right out and said that he'd expect to see a neck like mine on an 80 year old lol! That is just so surprising to me because I certainly don't feel like my neck is *that* bad.

    He set up an appointment for me to see a neurosurgeon this coming Monday. I'm curious to see if the neurosurgeon thinks it's as bad as my neuro made it sound. My neuro advised me that I need to get a second, third and even a fourth opinion on my neck. He just kept making this sound all so serious. I guess I'm in shock because I didn't imagine this scenario happening at all.

    So here I sit waiting for Monday to hurry up and get here wondering if there is anything I should not be doing. Wondering what questions I'll think to ask the neurosurgeon after the visit with him, cause that *always* happens lol! I don't even know where to begin as far as questions go.

    If I put up a picture of one of my axial slices could you all help me with something? I'm not looking for actual medical advise. I'm trying to figure out some anatomic stuff. I have some "stuff" surrounding my cord and I can't find any pics on the net like it so I have no idea what this stuff is. I've been searching for 5 weeks! It's driving me bananas that I can't figure this out! Even if you all can just give me some ideas as far as key words to search I would so appreciate it.

    Thanks for reading. :-)

  • Never mind about the picture. I read the FAQ on how to post a pic and have no clue.
  • You're very Welcome. In answer to your definitional questions.

    NVC - Nerve conduction velocity test. This test is used to measure how good your conduction of your nerve impulses. Basically they measure time, response along the selected nerve grouping to see if you have nerve issues or injury. This is done non invasive via electrodes and a probe to complete the circuit. Stings a bit, but won't hurt too bad for most.

    EMG - Electromyography - They use a very thin needle to probe in muscle to measure electrical activity in your muscles. If done right, it can be a big plus in differentiating between muscle or nerve disorders.

    ESI - Epidural steroid injection. These are shots you can get in your spine, joints etc., to help relieve pain caused by inflamed nerves. For me, they have never helped.

    TENS - Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Uses of electric current produced by a device to stimulate the nerves for therapeutic purposes. The at home units are basically 'cell phone' sized and smaller now. Do a search for "TENS Unit" and you will see what they look like. The unit, leads, electrodes - as simple as it gets. Love mine!

    The EMG is what diagnosed me with lesions on my upper motor neurons, so next month updated MRI's to include the ole gray matter to see if they are there. Like your initial title of this thread, MS is not off the table for me yet, nor is PLS (Primary Lateral Sclerosis). Since my physical symptoms *still* match my physical spine issues, not putting the cart before the horse due to EMG results. :)

    I saw further down that your Neurologist wasn't too happy with the MRI report. Stenosis is a narrowing as you know. It can be caused by spurs, disk material, narrow canal etc. Until you know what is causing it, try to relax until you see the surgeon, and like was suggested, there is nothing wrong with getting additional opinions.

    For now unless your doctor put you on restrictions, try to relax and not worry too much. Also stay out of the "mosh" pits, and no body slam Ninja fights until cleared okay? (G) (j/k) Just trying to lighten your mood a bit. *HUGZ*

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • Oh wow, so you are kind of in the same boat as me Brenda. My neuro did say Monday that he is not sure if my neck is what's causing my symptoms. I suppose seeing the neurosurgeon will be another step in the process of trying to figure this all out.

    Having a messed up neck really throws a chink into things as far as figuring out what is going on goes.

    You've probably been MRI'd for enhancing lesions too? I'm assuming there haven't been any? I've been checked and so far no lesions. I was checked in 2003 also because of an episode of severe vertigo, hearing loss and numbness. They say some of these conditions come in flairs that can be years apart and I think that is why things are a bit confusing with my case. My cervical spine wouldn't explain my vertigo so things just aren't very clear.

    And no mosh pits for me lol! I'm taking things easy at work (I do a lot of heavy lifting) and have co- workers that help. They know what's going on and are really helpful.

    Thanks for explaining those tests. I've had the EMG and apparently passed that with flying colors. My neuro told me that the EMG would tell us what I don't have but not necessarily what I do have.

    I'll update after my appointment Monday. It's nice to have a place to talk about this stuff.
  • Jdcatt,

    From what my Neurologist told me, and too I've seen it researching the net, the EMG is the gold standard for lesion on the upper or lower motor neurons. Upper is normally found with PLS, upper and lower ALS, varied locations in the brain, MS. The EMG won't necessarily show MS unless they are in the main nerve pathways.

    MRI misses like 80% of them if they are small or elongated. I will be getting lumbar, cervical and brain MRI's next month, and x-rays (flex/ext) for lumbar and cervical. Might have a CT 3D for the neck, not sure yet. Some of the tests they can do for MS/PLS/ALS are:

    Blood screening
    Spinal tap

    I guess mine was done bassackwards! (G) For MS the first 3 most times. PLS/ALS all 4, but EMG is the gold standard? Still not going to put the cart ahead of the horse! I don't want any of those of course, but if I had to pick the least of the evils? It would be PLS.

    I will keep my fingers crossed that no big surprises are tossed your way on Monday's appointment. I have copies of my latest MRI's/EMGs etc. for my Neuro. I've also highlighted areas I want answers for - otherwise, I would forget, only to remember once I get into the parking lot!!

    Have you kept a log to show what you've been feeling, what hurts, what feels good, what kinds of treatments you've had during this time etc.? So far my doctors love my logs - so just a thought to help you and your doctor, more so you to remember your own questions and concerns. Fingers crossed for ya!!

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • Jdcatt,

    Sorry, didn't see this!! I think the Neurologist wants a more "complete" report for a couple of reasons, top one of course so if the insurance makes a stink, there is "x and x" in print! The other being an outline for the surgeon, though most of the surgeons view the images themselves and make their own determination. I've had a few reports sent back for a re-do! That is actually a good thing to do in favor of the patient.

    It is sounding though like its your neck and not MS - so that is good news, right? Smiling for you on that count. If your neck is "that much" of a mess, I agree patient to patient on getting additional opinions. Until you know fully what is going on, I would try and relax a bit. Nothing can be changed right this second, so it isn't worth worrying over just yet - concern sure, but try not to worry okay?

    Sending you a PM...buddy request.

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • I've been thinking about my MRI report and am wondering if I should contact the hospital that did it and ask them to redo the report. The radiologist apparently did a really poopy job. My insurance co. and I didn't pay good money for an MRI only to have some tired or overwhelmed radiologist just skim through it. I wonder if I can demand that?

    I mean I do need to have an accurate report not only for medical treatment purposes but also so that I can know exactly what I have going on. I *want* to know and understand.

    I agree, it is sounding like it may be my neck that is the culprit. My vertigo just may be a separate issue entirely as well as my blood pressure issues. The only thing that has me doubting is the facial burning. It feels exactly like a bad sunburn and comes on very suddenly. I don't know if anything I have going on between C4 and C7 could cause that. I've had tingling on my face and tongue in the recent past as well and wonder about that too.

    And for sure I would choose bulging discs and stenosis over MS. Any day! :-) Bring on the bulges!

    I made an appointment with my daughters chiropractor so he can look over the MRI for me and give me his opinion. He mentioned a few neurosurgeons he knows who could take a look at it for me too. So I'm getting things rolling as far as opinions go.

    I've got a boat load of paperwork to fill out for my appointment with the neurosurgeon tomorrow and I guess I'll have to shave my legs for a possible physical exam, lol! I've actually been avoiding shaving my legs cause my legs cramp up when I lift them to shave, hurts like crazy in my hips. But I don't want to scare the neurosurgeon! LOL!

    Thank you for all your help Brenda!

  • to Spine Health.

    It sounds like you have a lot going on in your neck!!

    I hope that your appointment tomorrow goes well and that you get some answers (have you written a list of questions to ask?) and a plan of action.

    I agree about getting other opinions. It helps us to have confidence in the plan if other surgeons agree with it.

    I would definately mention all your health issues tomorrow with your surgeon as there are so many things that can be caused by spine problems, especially when there is pressure on the cord (including blood pressure problems).

    I will be interested to hear if he thinks the tingling in your face and tongue are caused by your neck as I have those symptoms too. (I am still waiting to see a neurosurgeon.)

    You made me smile thinking about you trying to shave with your legs cramping up! :))(
    I bet they get to see some awful sights as people with back problems have to neglect their beauty routines.

    Hope that tomorrow goes well and please come back and tell us what he says. :-)

  • Hi jellyhall, I'll let you know what this particular neurosurgeon thinks about the facial/tongue tingling. I'm assuming that since the face is above C4 that he'll say it's not connected but I'm hoping he'll surprise me and maybe have an explanation.

    I've totally been suspecting since August that my sudden blood pressure problem had to be connected to everything else going on. Before all of this started my average BP was always on the low side, like 99/75 or there abouts. Now it's always in the 150/105 range. Totally out of the normal range for me. I've been getting palpitations also which is also not normal for me. I'm thinking of going to my PCP for a Holter Moniter so I can have some proof for my neuro that my heart is beating funky.

    Got the leg shaving accomplished and my toe nails clipped, I know it's gross but man is that a chore when your muscles revolt and start screaming at you. Now I just gotta get started on the paperwork. ;-)

    I've been thinking about what questions to ask. I guess I'll focus first on finding out just what my report should have stated and have him explain each of those things to me. Then find out if it's really all that bad and if so ask him what he would do if this was his neck.

    This all is just happening so fast my head is spinning.

    Thank for the welcome jellyhall and I'll definitely post an update after my visit.

  • Hi jdcatt,
    Here is a link with some ideas of questions to ask your surgeon. I have a feeling that there is another list somewhere, but haven't managed to find it yet. Perhaps someone else can help. :-)


    Well done for cutting your toe nails!! I am impressed =D> I really struggle with that. /:)

    I have been told that the tingle I get on the side of my face in front of my ears could be from a problem at C3. I also get occiput headaches with bad pain in my ears, which I think indicates something going on in the higher levels. However my hand pains and symptoms indicate problems at C5/6/7.
    I hope to discover what is going on one day!!!

    Will be waiting to hear how things go :-)

  • Jdcatt,

    Glad to be of help. Of course just going on much of this from my own wonderful (NOT) experiences on spiney row!! (G)

    Like you, my BP use to sit low, average 100/55 or 60, now I (before my beta blocker got upped) got to where it was 139/90 routinely. My BP is now back down to 110/75, and I feel so much better!! As my GP and Cardiologist put it to me (maybe this might help?) medications taken daily (Lyrica, oxy etc.) along with chronic longterm pain, can and does cause BP to creep up on us. It has and did with me anyways!! It is well known that stress causes high BP, so chronic pain = stress inducer = high BP?

    I'll continue sending you positive thoughts and prayers that you find your answers with your doctor tomorrow!! As to the report. I've had mine "amended" before due to being skimpy and poorly written. Will the hospital do it? Yes, but your doctor is in a much better position to make it happen. I'm trying to remember...didn't your surgeon call them and strongly complain? If I remember that correctly, this may already be in play to amend it. Positive thoughts...positive thoughts!!! *HUGZ*

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
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