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Herniated Cervical Disc C5/C6, bulging C6/C7 - Really Scared!!

In November of this year I was diagnosed with a herniated disc at C5/C6 and bulging at C6/C7. So far I have only tried physical therapy and pain medications but I am getting worse instead of better. I have numbness and tingling in my right hand and arm and now it's starting in my feet and at times my left but mostly right hand and arm. I have lost a great deal of strength mainly on the right side but maybe worst of all I am SUPER depressed and terrified. I went through four months of physical therapy in hopes of avoiding surgery. I am deathly afraid of surgery. Every time I go to the doctor or PT and they bring it up I start to cry and am deeply depressed for days afterwards. I got a shock at my last PT appointment. I have had a SMALL amount of improvement so I thought ok my progress is very slow but maybe this is working. It took 4 months after my injury to get any treatment approved so I thought that might be part of why I was making such slow progress but I was seen by a new therapist and he gave me this really stern lecture about permanent nerve damage and basically told me there was nothing more they could do to help me and I probably needed to go for the surgery. I have a million concerns and I've been trying to research but it seems like a lot of the articles are backed by the people who make the artificial discs or are biased toward the medical providers. I don't want permanent nerve damage and I just want to know how likely is it that I have it already? My right hand is practically useless some days and the smallest of tasks are at times nearly impossible. One thing I am wondering is ok, say I have this surgery and get the herniated disc taken care of but I will still have a bulging disc just beneath it so am I going to continue having the same type of problems since I have two discs with problems but they are only talking about operating on the worst one? I am so tired of being pressured to have this surgery and nobody seems to understand what I'm going through or why I'm so afraid. I am also a single mother of three kids and I have nobody to help me during recovery, etc. I just don't know what to do. I am going to see my doctor tomorrow and I am afraid that if I don't agree to the surgery now that physical therapy has basically kicked me out they are just going to say we can't help you anymore or something. I would do almost anything to avoid this surgery. Oh and also this was a work related injury so I have to go through all the hoops of L an I. And will my compensation stop if I don't have the surgery? If I DO have permanent nerve damage and I have the surgery will I still have all the same symptoms anyway after the surgery? I am just so anxious and terrified and feeling really alone. Any help or advice or sharing of similar stories would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


  • specialksmamasspecialksmama Posts: 14
    edited 06/25/2014 - 6:06 AM
    I have a history of chronic migraines and every symptom that you describe. I also tried therapy and went through a couple of years, off n on, getting shots in the back of my neck. Finally the end of September 2010 I had surgery. Just like you I was scared! My dr explained exactly what he was going to do. He made a small incision on the front left side of my neck. He moved my esophagus over, scrapped the bone spurs off, I told him it sounded like rice krispies when I turned my head side to side. They were bone spurs. He scrapped them off and put cadaver bone in there and put a piece of titanium and 6 screws in there, it's from C3-4, 4-5, 5-6. He said I might have a sore throat, which I didn't and I had to wear the neck brace 24-7 for 3 weeks except to take a shower. I had to sleep in it too. That was the hardest part of the whole ordeal. I got the feeling back in my left arm immediately and the other aches and pains got better. I have alot of problems with my back and that's a whole other story. I did have to do about 2 months of therapy to get my range of motion, turning my head side to side and looking up and down. I honestly hope my experience helps you. If I had to do it again I certainly would. Don't be afraid to ask me any other questions if you want to!!!
  • surgery is the ONLY thing that will offer relief of the compression . Since you are experiencing worsening symptoms, and loosing musle and the function of your hand and arm are at stake, it is your best option to preventing permanent damage.
    A bulge in a disc only means that the disc is sitting outside the normal margins of where it is anatomically located. It can be position related. If there is no contact with the cord or the nerve roots, then it is no more or less likely than any other disc to be a problem and may resolve on it's own.
    The herniation sounds like it is the bigger concern, and needs to be addressed to take the pressure off the nerve.
    As much as none of us want to face surgery, given your situation, it may be the ONLY option to prevent permanent loss of function of your arm/hand.



  • Hi rainebeaubrite

    Hi, I am in the same situation as yourself. C6/C7 operation recommended, I was shocked when the registrar suggested I needed an op as it was my understanding this was a last resort. Then when the procedure was explained, I felt physically sick and more on that in a second. He told me, the disc pressing on the nerve root will not go away.

    Since last Friday, I have watched endless success stories on YouTube which has made me feel so much better about it all. Although will admit I choose not to think about it, because yes it is very scary, preferring to remain positive (could be worst, such as needing open heart surgery) and now I have found this site which I haven't browsed fully yet.

    I do have a question for members here. During my consult, with a registrar, not the surgeon. I really don't know where he was coming from when he told me the following, I do appreciate all invasive surgery is not without risks. However he informed me I have a 1 in 2000 chance of dying from the procedure and a 1 in 1000 chance of being left a paraplegic, oh and don't bank on a singing careerer (I'm over 50 yrs old). These are not great odds (no kidding), as I say, not sure why he mentioned it, maybe he felt perverse? Irrespective of any ulterior motive, surely these odds can not be correct?
  • Thanks for your responses. I didn't think anyone had answered me as I hadn't received any email notifications like you do when posting in most forums. I guess I have to say I don't feel any further along or more enlightened than I was. I guess what weighs most heavily on me is that nobody has really explained to me what the risks are of NOT having the surgery. Sometimes I resign to thinking maybe I can just live with the pain and weakness for the rest of my life but I've seen other posts here where people say their docs warned them a fall or serious bump could leave them paralyzed if they didn't remedy their injury with surgery. Is that true? I mean how likely is it that you could actually become paralyzed? I don't tend to trust in statistics but like you I am awfully afraid of the chance the surgery could cause death or paralysis too. Whenever I show my fear to a doctor they act as if I'm being silly and say things like they've seen zero patients who died or became paralyzed from surgery...like that's supposed to instantly and completely wash away all of my concerns.
  • Nick, it sounds like the person you had your consultation with likes to scare the life out of people! Wth?
  • depends on several factors......what kind of nerve it is? It is a nerve in the spinal cord, or a peripheral nerve? A peripheral nerve may recover, unless it is severely compressed and remains that way for an extended period of time. What the length of that extended time is, depends. A compression of the spinal cord and it's nerves may not recover. They don't have the ability of the peripheral nerves to regrow/repair themselves.
    It was asked if someone can really become paralyzed from a cervical herniation and the answer is yes.......it can happen if the herniation is large enough to compress the spinal cord, and cause permanent injury to it.
    A disc bulge simply means that the disc is broader than it is wide.....there is a margin for lack of a better description where the disc sits between the vertebra, and sometimes, due to position or other factors, a disc can sit outside that margin a bit. Unless there is contact with a nerve root it is generally not a problem. A herniation is an area of the disc that is considerably outside it's normal margins and may break off from the disc or may not . It is a smaller area of the disc, not broad based as the width of the disc itself.
    As to whether or not there is recovery for nerve damage post op, if it is a peripheral or nerve root, then yes, it can recover, but you need to be aware that it can take some weeks or months and even up to two years to see what that recovery means for you.
  • All doctors are required to go over the risks and statistics for adverse outcomes with a patient before any procedure.
    While they sound ominous and scary, they do have to give them to the patient so you are aware that the procedure you are about to undergo is not without risks and benefits
  • rainebeaubrite said:
    Thanks for your responses. I didn't think anyone had answered me as I hadn't received any email notifications like you do when posting in most forums. I guess I have to say I don't feel any further along or more enlightened than I was. I guess what weighs most heavily on me is that nobody has really explained to me what the risks are of NOT having the surgery. Sometimes I resign to thinking maybe I can just live with the pain and weakness for the rest of my life but I've seen other posts here where people say their docs warned them a fall or serious bump could leave them paralyzed if they didn't remedy their injury with surgery. Is that true? I mean how likely is it that you could actually become paralyzed? I don't tend to trust in statistics but like you I am awfully afraid of the chance the surgery could cause death or paralysis too. Whenever I show my fear to a doctor they act as if I'm being silly and say things like they've seen zero patients who died or became paralyzed from surgery...like that's supposed to instantly and completely wash away all of my concerns.
    i have been told for the last 15 yrs that i had bulging disc in my neck , and i exercised and took bc powders to calm the headaches never knowing i was on the verge of herniating a disc , chiropractors where making adjustments and winging it for yrs , till finally ones luck ran out , and when i tell you that was the worst pain , and the worst 2 months of my life waiting to get a severe herniated disc at level c6 fixed, the fushion i got was 4,5,6 to help with the blowout and the bulging i had been nursing for the past 15 yrs , so yes you can survive , but i wish i would have fixed the problem yrs ago instead of nursing it for so long
  • This just happened in October 2013, I couldn't get diagnosed until December. I saw two neurologists who both recommended trying physical therapy which I've been doing for four months with very little progress so this isn't something I've been procrastinating for years.
  • It just seems impossible to get a clear, direct answer. One person will say a bulging disc is no biggie while another says it caused them huge problems. It's all just so very confusing Nd I feel like the more data I collect the murkier the water becomes.
  • fab9racingffab9racing Posts: 4
    edited 07/11/2014 - 3:56 AM
    mine blew out on feb 14 2014 fushion may 15 , and i guess what i am trying to say if i could have gotten the bulging disc fixed yrs ago i would have , its really nice not eating bc powders and the tension in the neck area is gone , my range looking from side to side some what hampered , but glad i had it fixed
  • sandisandi Posts: 6,343
    edited 07/11/2014 - 8:00 AM
    is not a big deal......unless there are other factors involved........a tear in the annulous, or contact with a nerve root or other structure in the spine...
    It depends on what else may be or may not be going on. It also depends on how much of the disc is bulging.......if it's a slightly bulging disc, with no contact with other spine structures, it may not be a big deal...if it is a larger disc bulge, in contact with a nerve root, then it is a bigger deal.
    There isn't a one size fits all answer to anything in the spine......it depends on many factors, and what may not be serious for one patient, may be in another, based on their physical symptoms and anatomy. That's why it is so important that your doctor talk to you about your specific situation, because he has your images, his examination of you, and knows your relevant medical history. All we can do is provide general information.
    If there are symptoms of nerve compression or impingement, or a tear in the covering of the disc, it can be a more serious deal than a simple slightly bulging disc.
  • This is my very first post on this site. I just signed up and have been a member for 18 minutes and counting. Your Subject line caught my eye and your story really hit home. I, too, have serious issues with C5, C6 and C7 resulting originally from a car accident in 1980, but re-injured when I, too, had a work related accident.

    I had to fight the CA Worker's Compensation for any decent medical care that helped me for over 6 years. In those 6+ years they did nothing for me that corrected, healed and completely resolved my medical issues and allowed me to get back to work - which was all I wanted really. They dragged it out trying to prove me a fraud to the degree that the re-injured injuries are permanent. I, too, have the tingling, numbness and fear of permanent nerve damage if I do not have surgery, but I have not had any on my spine.

    They wanted to do fusion on my neck, but looking at the metal work left in my neck I refused. I knew the surgery would improve with all of the advancements that are occurring in medicine almost every day. But, bottom line, I knew that neck surgery was in my future - no if's, and's or but's about it. That Work. Comp. case settled out in 2004.

    In 2006 I was closing up my mother's apartment and picked up something wrong. I immediately felt something pop in my lower spine around L2 - L4. I had no time to stop working, but I knew it was bad. The pain was excruciating. By the time I got home again I could not stop. My husband and I were moving. Again I stuffed the pain and kept on going using ice time and time again during the day plus taking Advil and a muscle relaxer [that helped me more than Vicodin]. After that was over I collapsed in nervous exhaustion and serious lower back pain that made it difficult to walk every morning until I sufficiently iced my back. I also iced it at night. Ice became my best friend.

    Ultimately I went to a Pain Management Clinic at Kaiser and took their 12-week course on how to manage the pain without narcotics. I was down to 1 muscle relaxer at night only. The Pain Management classes changed my life. I was no longer in agony with muscle spasms when I tried to walk across the room. I have used the techniques I learned there ever since.

    Now, 7 years later the pain is back in my arms. I was diagnosed with carpal tunnel in my left hand and had a serious ulna nerve problem in my right elbow. I received a cortisone & lidocaine shot into my right elbow and it really helped. I still have to ice, but the sharp nerve pain is gone.

    The left hand is another matter. There is a combination of pain issues stemming from the carpal tunnel that is pressing on nerves in my wrist and the nerves being pinched off in my neck. I just got a cortisone/lidocaine shot into my wrist. If I still had pain, tingling and numbness in my thumb, index and middle finger it was definitely coming from my neck. The nerves that affect the thumb, index and middle finger come from C5, C6 and C7! I am getting yet another MRI to determine how bad the discs are in my neck after all of this time. I also really need to have the carpal tunnel surgery. What compounds my problem is that we are in the throes of packing up a three bedroom house to move yet again! We have to be out of this rental the end of August - certainly no time to have any surgery. So, again I wait and hope that it does not cause me permanent nerve damage in my hand and forearm.

    Being that you had an accident at work I am guessing that you are also fighting for your medical care from Worker's Compensation in your state. It is not easy and they are not forthcoming with approvals for treatment the way they should be. Being a single mother of three kids is stressful enough. Being in chronic, debilitating pain on top of that is unbearable I am sure. Being alone without any kind of support system there to help you - I know how that feels. I, too, was without any kind of support system I could count on to help me. I feel your pain in so many ways.

    Sometimes life can be completely unfair and terrifying especially if you are alone. Your children are just that - children. They cannot possibly understand what you are going through. But they can be scared, too, that mommy hurts real bad. You are their support system and the mother they love and are dependent on for their care. They want to help, but they are just kids! It is so very difficult for all concerned.

    Neck surgery scares me to death, too! No two people who I talked to, who had fusion surgery, had the same experience. Some raved about the success of the surgery and some really regretted having it. Dealing with the Work. Comp. system does not make any of it any easier. I am not a doctor, a nurse or any medical professional so I will not pretend that I am. I can only share with you what I experienced as I have the same injuries as you do, but possibly to a lesser extent than you do. I have the bulging discs. I have degenerative disc disease. The diagnosis of 'herniated disc' has only been made for my lower back. One medical professional told me that the bulging disc was a herniated disc. I have no idea if that is true or not.

    IF [and I do emphasize IF] you are dealing with the Work. Comp. system on your own by yourself I cannot suggest strongly enough that you seriously need to consider finding and hiring an attorney to help you get the care you deserve. Find the best one you can find who has successfully fought and won against the Work. Comp. system. If you are being told that you need to have surgery or risk permanent nerve damage you need that support to fight for you. They know the laws of the Work. Comp. system which are extremely complicated. That kind of pressure should not be on you when you are in such extreme pain. It is almost impossible to fight for your rights when you can barely function.

    I came to this group by chance of an internet search. Timing is everything. No one can possibly understand the pain of a spinal injury and the resulting nerve pain. It is a pain like no other. I hope that some little thing is all that I have written helps you and shows you that you do have a support system here even if it is not right there where you live. My heart goes out to you and your kids. Hang in there. >^..^<
  • I had the same diagnosis you have and same symptoms but only on to my left arm so I underwent the 2 level fusion and disc replacement in May and so far so good. I know u are scared but just make sure u have a reputable surgeon and dig deep and do it. It's a serious surgery but it's the right thing to do. You will not get better with PT and drugs and just prolonging more damage the more you wait
  • jdrejjdre Posts: 6
    edited 08/05/2014 - 5:14 AM
    You should probably get another opinion and look into some of the new innovative treatments that are out there. There are some amazing doctors and treatments. Don't resign yourself to surgery or being in pain for the rest of time. Those are not your only two options. Don't lose heart!
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