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Can muscle spasms alone be to blame?

pirtasticppirtastic Posts: 6
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:55 AM in Upper Back Pain, Thoracic
On and off for 2 years I've had major muscle tension in my neck, shoulders, and upper back.

Most recently, I've suffered from a bout of stabbing pain at the base of my neck, and then an electric-shock-like feeling about two to three inches further down my spine.

My MRI from 9 months ago shows no evidence of disc problems or nerve impingement, so my physiatrist says it's due simply to muscle spasms. He's prescribed Skelaxin for 4 weeks to see if I improve.


I've half-convinced myself I have a lurking herniated disc that simply isn't showing up. I just can't imagine how regular "stress" could cause this kind of pain.


  • Hmm, I would see another doctor and ask for a new MRI. I had very very similar pain and had c4-c5 herniated. I am 8 weeks post op and am still having some muscular pain, but nothing near what I was having pre surgery.
    ACDF C4-5 June 23rd, 2011

    Another surgery in the near future. I am 26 years old.

    Current Meds- Norco 7.5/325, Cymbalta 60mg, Gabapentin, Adderall 20mg
  • Have you had flexion/extension x-rays done? Sometime that may show some things that an MRI won't. do you have any pain or numbness or tingling in your arm or elbow or fingers? I have pain in my elbow from my C6-C7 disc with nerve being impinged.

    Right now I'm getting inferential therapy and ultrasound from a Chiropractor with no adjustments of course for a neck injury. Have you see a Physiotherapist yet?

    Sometimes a Sports Med Dr. or Physiatrist could help with exercise or trigger point injections if he feels it's caused by muscle spasms. I've only had the lumbar area done with trigger point injections for muscle spasms but I'm trying different treatments for relief. I hope you find a Dr. to get you some tests and treatment. Take care. Charry
    DDD of lumbar spine with sciatica to left hip,leg and foot. L4-L5 posterior disc bulge with prominent facets, L5-S1 prominent facets with a posterior osteocartilaginous bar. Mild bilateral foraminal narrowing c-spine c4-c7 RN
  • Agreeing with Charry. I would also add that you need to get a copy of the MRI report as well as the CD/films. They are yours and you may need them in the future.

    My PCP is great but my first MRI on my lumbar spine I never saw the report (minimal bulges and loss of disc height). She sent me for PT many times and then finally to another doc for injections and possible micro d.... He was a quack (not a NS or OS) he wanted to do the micro d when I had no disc!!!! Finally I told my PCP you have to refer me to someone else. She agreed (17 months in). I met my NS who said the MRI didn't show my symptoms... He ordered the flexion extension x-rays which I looked at many times before our follow up visit.... I go to the appt and he is reading the radiology report shaking his head and saying it looks fine... I said well have you looked at the films? I pointed out the very obvious almost complete dislocation and he was shocked. I had a PLIf (fusion) 2 months later.

  • After I crashed my helicopter and was returned to flight status (BIG mistake) I started getting stabbing and spasms in my upper back, base of the neck. MRI's weren't common back then, so just x-ray and exam. For me, no herniations suspected, but residuals from the crash!

    At 22 it got so bad, I thought I was having a heart attack - yeah that bad. Maybe as was suggested, tell your doctor of your issues, and ask for an MRI, maybe x-ray for the physical aspects to see what is going on?

    I hope you have answers soon.

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • My physiatrist has read the MRI (done Nov 2010), and says he sees nothing to worry about. I also had an x-ray (done Nov 2010), and that also seems to have come out clean, according to the radiologist and doc. I'd like to have another set of tests done to look again, but I'm confident my insurance would balk at it (if my doc would even order it to begin with).

    I'd really love to believe this is muscular, as I know many stories of struggle of people who have suffered disc issues (including my mother). I just have a hard time believing this much breath-taking pain is from tense muscles alone.

    Thank you for your help, and for sharing your stories, too.
  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 9,859
    as to just how much muscles play into our discomfort.

    There are a couple of things that our muscles can do to work against us:

    Stress and Tension
    When our muscles tighten up due to stress, it is placing an unusual strain on parts of our body. For example, if you are really tense, you might find one shoulder hiked up more than the other, our upper back muscles become rigid. When the muscles become rigid and not that flexible, the strain goes someplace else.
    Our bodies are like stereos. When on part gets effected, it can cause a problem someplace else.

    This just prevents our muscles from relaxing, so they can create pain in another area. Lets say your thigh muscle is constantly going into spasms. That makes it more difficult to walk, so you would generally favor (or limp) on that leg. Doing that will throw some other part of your body off.

    It was only after I started seeing my Thai Deep Tissue specialist. He explained in details how our muscles play such an important role in our entire makeup. I was having conventional physical therapy for several herniated of my thoracic discs. After about 18 months, I was discharged, because there was no noticeable change. Basically, PT and the insurance carrier determined I reached the best I could. Yet I was still in agony.

    I started seeing this Thai Deep Tissue Massage person and after 5 months of very painful Deep tissue activity, he was able to get my deep rhomboid muscle somewhat pliable. By doing that, I had the best relief from thoracic pain I have had in years.

    This does not mean that every muscle problem is going to create problems, but it is something that should always be considered.
    Ron DiLauro Spine-Health System Administrator
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences
    You can email me at: rdilauro@veritashealth.com
  • I do know our muscles have a great impact on our bodies. I think it's just that--from all I've read--I have so many signs that say it could be more than muscular: a cinder-block-sanding sound in my neck when I twist my shoulders, electric-shock-like pain in my spine, and radiating pain down my left arm.

    I am encouraged to hear of cases like yours, dilauro, when some kind of alternative therapy leads to improvement. I am terrified of surgery to my neck/back, as my mother has had 4 fusions and lives in pain (and depression) every day. So any other avenues for relief are welcome, I say ;).
  • I think you need to let the Dr. know about the radiating pain down your arm. I have this and have C-spine issues. Please see your Dr. about this symptom. Charry
    DDD of lumbar spine with sciatica to left hip,leg and foot. L4-L5 posterior disc bulge with prominent facets, L5-S1 prominent facets with a posterior osteocartilaginous bar. Mild bilateral foraminal narrowing c-spine c4-c7 RN
  • I did share with my physiatrist about my arm pain. He said it's somewhat suspicious, but that my muscle tightness could be irritating my nerve (and, again, that my Nov 2010 MRI doesn't indicate any problems). He has said we will do an EMG mid-Sept if my pain has not improved due to muscle relief (which is supposedly going to be provided by the Skelaxin).

    Anyone else have crazy pain from un-diagnosed muscle tension?

    Thanks for your encouragement, Charry (et al) :)
  • I also have horrible thoracic pain with a negative MRI. My x-rays showed bone spurs and arthritis but my DR was not concerned since i am only 24. Every Dr i see is amazed at how tight my muscles are, from my neck down to my bra strap, but even with muscle relaxers they don't get any looser...

    I hope we can both find a diagnosis :)
  • @GMiller: Positive thoughts for the both of us, right? Wow...this can be a worry-filled road.
  • Yes you are absolutely right, it seems to be a long road, just getting a diagnosis. My MRI was done on my T-Spine but I am going to ask if I can have one of my neck and shoulders hurt bad as well. Where did you have your MRI at? They say the thoracic area is hard to damage and I dont recall having any trauma to it so maybe its something else that is just causing that area to hurt as well... I am not sure... I just keep doing what the doctors tell me :)
  • I lived with uncontrollable spasms for years, and it didn't matter what I took for them, they would only feel better for a very brief time. For some reason, when I started on Enbrel for treatment of spondyloarthritis, the spasms eased off after about two months. I talked to the Enbrel people about it and they said that was not something they had heard from patients, but they felt that if the areas of arthritis were being treated, it most likely took the pressure off all the muscles that "guard", which makes sense.

    Muscle spasms caused major pain issues for me and took me into the ER many, many times for treatments, be they trigger point injections, injections of Meperidine or anything that might give me relief.

    I have numbness in my arms at night, but I, too, have issues with my C spine.

    It might be worth having your MRI re-read by another doc; my last MRI showed "no significant changes" to my SI joints, yet my rheumatologist read it and saw very obvious changes.

    It's your body - do what you have to to get answers! Good luck.

  • It's certainly possible, I would imagine. I used to get muscle spasms as a teenager, and I remember it feeling like an electric shock feeling. Were the MRI's of your cervical and thoracic spine? I mean, you could always request another MRI or for your original MRI to be read again, especially if you are concerned. Has the pain gotten worse over the past several months? I had a thoracic MRI in November 2010, which showed several t-spine herniations. I just had surgery on July 6th, and I developed a new, worse pain two weeks after the surgery. They sent me for another MRI in early August, which did show some worsening of another disc. So it's definitely possible for things to change in that short period of time. In fact, I had a CT myelogram on May 12th and a plain ole CT scan on July 11th. Just in that two-month time frame, one of my disc herniations had worsened. So if things have worsened for you, as long as the doctor can justify sending you for another MRI, the insurance should cover it. But you should make sure your doctor's office calls for pre-certification, especially if your insurance company requires that (mine does).
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