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Miracle, or psychosomatic?

My mother was, a few weeks ago, diagnosed with a broken-off disc in her cervical vertebrae. The technical diagnosis is "anterior cervical discectomy and fusion", in her C-5-6. She had been having very intense pain in her left arm for a few weeks before the doctors did an MRI and found out that this was the cause. Upon seeing how bad her condition was, a neurosurgeon fit her into his busy schedule within two weeks after the diagnosis. My mom, who hates all these related to doctors/medicine/procedures/etc, asked if there were alternative options--physical therapy, or simply waiting it out. The doctor told her that physical therapy would actually make it worse in her case, and that it could take anywhere from 6 weeks-1 year to heal (I think I remember that correctly). He also told her that, in the meantime, any sudden jerk or fall could cause her to be paralyzed, if the disc were to touch her spinal cord.

Almost immediately after getting told she would have to have surgery, my mom claimed she was feeling better. She said that she had no more pain in her arm. However, about two days ago, her legs from the knee down started to tingle and were weak. She went to the doctor for this, wondering if it was from her disc, and he said it was simply nerves. When she told him that she had no more pain, he told her that she wouldn't need the surgery after all, without even running any tests or taking another MRI. Granted, he might not be able to see a change in her yet, but I still think that was something that should have been done. He tested her arm's strength and said that it had improved.

I guess my question is this--have you ever experienced anyone with a broken cervical disc heal so quickly? Is it possible that she has convinced herself that she's feeling better to the point where her mind actually believes it to be true, and her body follows? I'm really worried about her. She thinks it's a miracle, but I'm not so sure.


  • No I doubt that it healed that quickly. What concerns me more is that she has issues with her legs. Keep in mind that the spinal cord is located in that area. There is a condition called myelopathy, if the cord is being damaged in anyway, or there is pressure on it, which could cause leg issues. However I am no doctor and only a doctor with imaging could say if that was going on. If I was in your shoes, I would take her for a second opinion. Which I would have done anyway if they said she needed surgery. I am not suggesting the first doctor is wrong, but is it always important to do your research, to insure you are getting the best possible medical advice out there.

    Is it possible she heard the word surgery and has convinced herself it is getting better, yes. It is natural for anyone to be afraid of surgery, and there are many here whom have gone through the same thought process. The only way to really tell if things have gotten better is with imaging. As far as the arm strength getting better she could have tried lots harder this go around, just do to the fear of having surgery. My suspicion is that she is lots more pain from doing it, but do to her fear may not tell you. Of course I could be totally wrong about that, which is why I would get a second opinion. You have to be your mom's advocate, your not hurting the surgeons feelings by getting a second opinion. If the surgeons feelings are hurt by it then it is more than likely not the surgeon for you, to begin with.

    Good luck and keep us posted on how she does.
  • theniceicemanttheniceiceman Posts: 11
    edited 12/19/2012 - 1:09 PM
    To be honest, I really have no say in what my mother does. She won't listen to anything I say. I have taken several medical courses, and, while I am not a doctor either (yet), I feel like I do have somewhat of an idea of where I'm coming from. The doctor told her that he would take images of her in another month. Honestly, I wish she hadn't told the surgeon that she was feeling better so that they could do the surgery and it would be done, but she has an excuse for everything. "I didn't even know I was going to have to have surgery when my arm stopped hurting" and "this is a good thing, because if I had the surgery, I've heard from many people that I'd have to have another one in a couple of years".

    So far, she seems to be doing fine. I just hope that the disc really is healing itself or disappearing inside her, rather than simply moved off the nerve, which would make it possible that it could be hurt at another time. I have suggested that she get a second opinion, but, like I said, she doesn't do what I tell her lol. I've also tried convincing my dad and sister to talk her into it because, for some reason unbeknownst to me, she seems to trust their judgement more than mine (even though I have more medical knowledge).

    Anyway, I've done all I can and can only hope that she really is getting better, rather than simply putting off the inevitable. Thank you for your response, it was very enlightening :)
  • ...that your suspicions are probably more on track. It is unlikely there is a miracle or that it 'healed', but my guess is the same as yours - something probably shifted and alleviated the immediate pain.

    I recently had C3/4 and C4/5 ACDF and I did have some occasional numbness down my left leg, so there is definitely an impact to areas other than just the neck and arms.

    And, you're right. All you can do is what you can do.

    The gooc thing is that her doctor told her that she would have another checkup in a month. That is good. It's not like the doctor is putting things off, necessarily and is perhaps aware of patients like your mom. So, instead of insisting and freaking her out, he is perhaps pacing things with her so that if it is inevitable that she has surgery, he is helping to build her up to that eventuality.

    And, your mom is right. If she does have surgery, there is no guarantee that she won't have to have surgery on other discs at another time because of extra wear and tear on the still moveable discs.

    And yes, although it can take up to a year to heal - what I suspect he said or meant was that the fusion takes up to a year to fuse. That doesn't mean that she will be down-for-the-count for a year! Many on here are fully functional a week or a few weeks or a month later.

    If the disc is disappearing inside of her, I would think that would mean that the vertebrae would be pinching a nerve. I am not a doctor, but unless that area autofuses, if that is happening, I would think that eventually she will end up with the same or worse symptoms should that occur, but what do I know?

    I am presently healing from my surgery 8 weeks ago and all is going well. We'll see what time tells.

    Good luck with your mom!
    10/26/2012 ACDF C3/4 C4/5 surgery
    No pain; no pain meds - thank goodness!
    04/01/2013 - 5 months + 1 week - FUSED
    Doing some physical therapy for even better range of motion
  • Thanks for the response, Francine. After doing a lot of reading online, it seems very likely that her weakness/numbness in her legs is being caused by something in her spine. It seems that leg symptoms are more commonly associated with lumbar or thoracic vertebrae but they can, like in your case, be caused by cervical. I guess all we can do now is wait and see what the doctor says at her other appointment, three weeks from now.
  • Haha, well all the responsibility for this is falling onto my shoulders. My dad is not willing to call the doctor for her, and, of course, my mother won't do it, so I'm going to. Her legs are still numb, and she is also experiencing bladder insensitivity. She can go when she tries, but she doesn't feel the need to go, even though she drinks a lot of water on a regular basis. I'm not sure if that could be caused by this, but it's definitely something new.
  • ...that even when there are signs such as persistent numbness and bladder issues, people are so afraid that they prefer to suffer than get help.

    I was told that bladder issues can also be caused in my situation (cervical issues), so it is not surprising that it would be impacted by other areas, too.

    So, you get to be the adult here and make the call.

    Good luck to you!
    10/26/2012 ACDF C3/4 C4/5 surgery
    No pain; no pain meds - thank goodness!
    04/01/2013 - 5 months + 1 week - FUSED
    Doing some physical therapy for even better range of motion
  • Well she is still having bladder issues, and also some bowel troubles now. She's still not incontinent, thank goodness, but she is having problems going...she's sort of constipated and still doesn't feel like she needs to pee, even though she drinks a lot of water. Today she told me that she is also experiencing some numbness "down there"--you know where I mean lol. She did go to her GP today, who ran all those tests to check for weakness or lack of response in her feet, arms, legs. Every area was great, except when the doctor took a tuning fork and asked if she could feel the vibrations on certain areas of her feet. Every place was fine, except for one spot on her left foot, my mom said she couldn't feel anything.

    Her GP is running a urinalysis to check for a UTI. My mother just had that test about a week or two ago and it came back negative. The doctor told her that, if this test comes back as still being negative, she will call the neurosurgeon and try to get my mother in sooner than the 16th of January. So, I guess a urinary tract infection is her last hope, and if it's not that, surgery will probably be back on the table.
  • ...and that even though there is nothing obvious yet, he is not sending her away.

    thanks for the update!
    10/26/2012 ACDF C3/4 C4/5 surgery
    No pain; no pain meds - thank goodness!
    04/01/2013 - 5 months + 1 week - FUSED
    Doing some physical therapy for even better range of motion
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