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Wondering what to expect

Hello all. I stumbled across this forum while searching out info on what I have going on. I am active duty US Navy. I have had severe shoulder pain for around 4 years on the right side and up my neck. When it was looked at around 3.5 years ago I was informed it was a muscle issue and would likely be permanent but that doing upper back workouts such as the lat pull down would help it to subside some. I was also told that I should look into getting a tens machine (this did help out some). Recently, say in the last 3-4 months I started having tingling and numbness in my left hand on the outer two fingers. The Navy doctor I saw diagnosed me with carpal tunnel. The tingling/numbness/and pained progressed up my arm to the elbow and now is also shooting down both legs as well as severe shoulder pain in both shoulder now (more pronounced on the left side where I never had pain before). I had an MRI on Monday and was told later that day by my military Primary Care manager that I have multiple herniated discs and severe spinal compression in my upper back/neck region(did not tell me specific discs). They are putting me in for an immediate consult with a neurosurgeon.

What should I expect from this appointment? Does this mean I will have surgery or do neurosurgeons not always go the surgery route (IE: physical therapy, steroid injections, stretches, etc). I am hoping to avoid surgery, I do not think the Navy will let me stay in if they have to do surgery on a disc. No I do not want to continue to be in pain so if it is the route I have to take then I will. Anyway, just wondered if anyone had any insight while I sit around waiting to hear back from tricare on my consult.


  • Guess I will just have to wait and find out on Tuesday lol.

  • On reading your post, I was going to say that in my (no medical training, just lots of research!) humble opinion, tingling and numbness in the outer two fingers is not carpal tunnel (that tends to affect the thumb and first 2 fingers). I also have tingling and numbness in the little and ring finger of my left hand. It is from the C8 nerve compression. I also get pains in my thumb and first two fingers of my right hand which is C6 and C7 nerve roots. I also get symptoms in both legs and feet.

    I had a lumbar fusion about 2 and a half years ago. My neck is very degenerated with nerve root compression diagnosed from MRI from C4 right down to C7 bilaterally. I also have cord compression at C3/4 and C4/5.

    As you have an MRI for the neurosurgeon to view, he should be able to tell you what is going on. As you have severe spinal compression, he may tell you that you need neck surgery. The urgency of an immediate appointment makes me think that they have seen something that needs dealing with quickly.

    Most neurosurgeons will try treatment before offering surgery, but sometimes, when the spinal cord is being compressed, they say that surgery needs to be done sooner rather than later.

    If you do have severe compression of your cord, I would imagine that being in the Navy with all the training, lifting and physical life it involves, your spinal cord could be in danger of permanent injury.

    Keep looking at this site. There is a wealth of information; look up spinal stenosis, myelopathy (your legs symptoms may indicate this) cervical disc herniation etc. I suggest that you have a notebook with you while you read and jot down questions that you think of asking the neurosurgeon.

    There are also articles on questions to ask your surgeon and how to prepare to see your surgeon. If you can't find them, ask and either I or someone else will give you a link to them.

    I am facing a 2 level ACDF (Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion) for my spinal cord compression. I have some signs of myelopathy but not others, which is why I have been left for 18 months to see how quickly my symptoms are progressing.

    Do let us know how you get on on Tuesday and ask any other questions you may have. Good luck at your appointment and I hope that there is good news for you. Take care

  • bpreachersbbpreachers Posts: 147
    edited 08/10/2012 - 6:36 AM
    Right now I am overly nervous because i did the idiotic thing and looked up what surgery would be related to my issue and then watched a video of the surgery. They go in through your throat!!!! That is not my idea of something I want to do. Not even close. I don't know that I could let that happen unless I just have no other alternative.
  • jellyhalljjellyhall Posts: 4,373
    edited 08/10/2012 - 9:50 AM
    I know that at first spinal surgery seems very scary.
    I put off my lumbar fusion for 2 years after it had been suggested in order to help my pain. I felt that there was no way that I could ever have that! I read up a lot about it and read on here other people's experiences. Gradually I came to terms with the fact that I may need it one day. I then agreed to go and 'talk' to the surgeon. My pain had got so bad that I could only walk for about 10 minutes before needing to sit down and could only stand for 5 mins max. The surgeon told me that if I didn't have the surgery I would end up in a wheelchair because my spine was unstable and it was slipping forward and starting to fall over the vertebra underneath. That was enough to convince me and I had my surgery 3 weeks later. It took a long time of trying every other method to help myself (except injections, they said it was too bad for that). I managed with the recovery better than I had expected and it really helped with my pain. If I was in the same position again, I would go for surgery earlier. One thing I could not bring myself to do was to watch an actual video of the surgery. Afterwards I did, but I was too scared before hand. Before the op I did watch the explanation on this site which just explained how they do the op with pictures.

    Now I am facing a 2 level ACDF and I have watched a video of it. In actual fact going in through the throat is the easiest access to your spine. They have to move your oesophegus out of the way, that causes a sore throat and difficulty swallowing after surgery, but not cut through all the muscles that are at the back of your neck. It is an easier surgery to recover from than a posterior surgery. My first neurosurgeon at my first appointment actually said to me that he wasn't going to cut my throat just yet! Over time and doing lots of reading and research, I have got used to the idea. I do understand that at first it does sound very shocking! Personally I found that as I found out about it and understood what they would do, I came to terms with it and it got less scary. I hope that happens to you!

    Do ask any questions about people's experiences about this surgery. Bear in mind though that most of the successful patients, arrive here to learn about their surgery, have it and hang around while they recovery (this is a very supportive place to be while you are taking it easy during the recovery) and then they get back to their busy lives and do not post again. Most of the people who are still here have not had a perfect outcome, but there are far more who do get good relief.

    Take care

  • Believe they did a disservice to you when they kept telling you it was muscular when you were having back pains and that you should do Lat Pull downs. I had/have the same issue and back in 2004 my primary Dr did an MRI which showed disc issues and told me to stop weight lifting that could put any strain on my neck. Lat pull downs definately does.
    That being said, sorry you are in pain and having these issues but you have come to the right spot for advice and help or just an ear to listen to what you are going through.
    I had a laminectomy done in 2008, first neck surgery, and now looking at a 3 level fusion where they will go in through the front of my neck. I am using in home traction to try and put the surgery off for as long as possible. Unless you are in such a condition that you risk paralysis or permanent damage there are conservative routes to go for treatment before you get to surgery. The first step is seeing the NS or Ortho surgeon for evaluation. Good luck and let us know how your consult goes.
    laminectomy c4/c5 2008, ACDF c4-c7 Jan 20 2014 sched
  • bpreachersbbpreachers Posts: 147
    edited 08/14/2012 - 12:35 PM
    Well just came back from drinking after my neurosurgeon appointment. Not awesome news. I have 3 herniated discs, one of which is causing a 90% pinch of my spinal cord. I also have congenital spinal stenosis. My surgeon is scheduling me for immediate surgery (27th of August). The have to go in through the fron to remove the main herniated disc and then through the back as the dr says i need to have multiple fusions (C3 - C6/7). Doc said that one bad fall and I could end up a quadroplegic so apparently this is worse than I assumed it to be.

    This sucks.
  • jellyhalljjellyhall Posts: 4,373
    edited 08/15/2012 - 12:14 AM
    I know that this is not what you wanted to hear.

    You now need to try to get your head around this. That may be by reading all about the surgery, or you may prefer not to know. There is a section at the top of the back and neck surgery thread, that gives all sorts of ideas for useful items to have to help in your recovery. It is a very loooongg list, but don't be put off by it. The list has things for those who are having a lumbar fusion as well as cervical. If you are not sure, do ask. From memory things that will help you are;
    bendy straws as you won't be able to tilt your head back when drinking, grabber to pick things up, lots of pillows to help you get comfortable, various soft and easy to swallow food in the house - ice cream, pudding, smoothies. A friend told me that ice cream and smoothies were about the easiest, laxatives!! all the meds and anaesthetic will cause problems there!,

    You have got time to prepare your house for after surgery. Get things you use often at an easy to reach level, you won't be able to bend or look down and you won't be able to reach or look up. Think about what you will do to pass the time while you recover; DVDs, books etc. After my lumbar fusion my husband raised the tv in front of the bed, so I could watch it while lying down. That may not be such a problem after a cervical fusion. People often seem to find a recline a comfortable place to relax.

    Do keep asking questions. Lots of people here who will be very willing to share their experience and those of us who are trying to think about what they will need during recovery after cervical fusion will find it helpful too.

    Do you plan to get another opinion?

    Do let us know how things go and what happens about your job in the Navy.
    Good luck!!
  • Thanks for the info. They are apparently doing ACDF and a laminectomy in the same sitting. I will know more later today or tomorrow when the paperwork comes in. I will be on Limited duty with the navy for at least 8 months so I may end up out but I just don't know. Nice way to say thanks though aint it. You sacrificed your health for us so go on home now lol.
  • Could the Navy redeploy you?
    Perhaps in an office type job or something that wouldn't be hard on your neck?

    "When it was looked at around 3.5 years ago I was informed it was a muscle issue and would likely be permanent but that doing upper back workouts such as the lat pull down would help it to subside some."

    " The Navy doctor I saw diagnosed me with carpal tunnel. "

    It strikes me that if you had been correctly diagnosed 3.5 years ago, you may not be in such a serious situation now. I don't know what upper back workouts and the lat pull down are, but I suspect that putting stress on your upper back has caused things to get worse. When I asked my neurosurgeon if it was just a knock to my head that could cause my neck to get worse, he said that also a pull or tug on my arms could also make things worse for me.

    I hope that you have got copies of your medical records and have kept a note of appointments you have had and when. If not, perhaps it would be an idea to try to assemble as much as you can.

    Take care

  • Am I going to have to wear one of those large neck brace/cage looking deals after my surgery or would it likely be a soft brace? being that I am having ACDF and a Laminectomy at the same time I cannot find much information on this. thanks.
  • jellyhalljjellyhall Posts: 4,373
    edited 08/16/2012 - 1:46 AM
    It seems that different surgeons have different ideas.
    I would think that you will have something to wear as your surgery will be more invasive than most.

    I often read that some ACDF patients start with a hard brace for a while and then move into a soft one.
    I think my surgeon only uses one for the first few days and then nothing.
    There is a balance between supporting the neck after surgery and causing your muscles to get weak through not being used. I think that is why there is the discrepancy between surgeons; depends on whether they want to protect your neck or if they don't want your muscles to get weak.

    Perhaps if you start a new post with a heading of ACDF with Laminectomy - 360 cervical surgery
    That should get anyone's attention who has had both front and back surgery at the same time. (360 means that)
    Then ask about what brace people have had after surgery, and any other questions you have.

    I hope that you are 'getting your head around' needing to have this surgery now. I certainly found with my lumbar fusion that as I read more about what it involved and read others experience, I started to feel that I could face it. I hoped for the best, but was ready to have a very difficult time during the recovery. In fact, my recovery wasn't as bad as I had feared and I would class it as a successful surgery. The cervical problems I now have were evident before my lumbar fusion and are not a result of it.

    I will be following your story and will pray that all will go well for you.
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