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question about C5-6 herniation and arm pain

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,578
edited 06/11/2012 - 7:34 AM in Neck Pain: Cervical
Can a C5-6 herniated disc cause pain in BOTH arms and shoulders? The disc is herniated off to the right side and originally my pain was in the right arm. Lately it is primarily in my left arm now. I have had one Neurosurgeon say that it was a C3-4 disc starting to go and cause the left arm pain. Another said that my C3-4 was fine and that the C5-6 could be causing pain in both arms. The one that said the C5-6 could be causing both is from Johns Hopkins.

I know there have been a lot of people on here with herniated C5-6 discs, so I am hoping someone can answer my question.


  • Yes, you can have pain in both your arms from that disc even if it shows on MRI to be more 1 sided. My disc on MRI shows that that an osteophyte is completely compressing the the exiting rt nerves and comressing the cord. My symptoms started with tingling of Rt leg and foot, moved to rt shoulder, arm and hand, and then moved to left arm and sometimes the hand. I went to 3 surgeons before I decieded who I was going to use, all from very good hospitals in Manhattan NY, one from Columbia, who said the pain in my foot and left arm had nothing to do with my disc, 2nd from Hospital of Special Surgery, who first said leg had nothing to do with C spine till it advanced and showed stiffness, then he said "maybe", which wasn't good enough for me. The doctor I am using is from NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases. Two of these doctors suggested the same type of surgery for me, the third suggested another level then I am having, so hard, the more you go to the more different opinions you get. You have to go with who you feel will be the best surgeon for you. Good luck, I know this isn't easy.
  • Hi GraciesDad,

    One additional perspective on symptoms...if you can wake up one morning with pain which you cannot attribute to anything you did (as happened to me with my herniation at C6-7) then it's logical that at any point in the future you could have sudden additional deterioration. The occasional pain and numbness that I feel now is different than what I was experiencing this last February when I had my MRI and subsequent foraminotomy. Whether it has anything to do with my original problem, I don't know, but when it gets bad enough I'll go back to my surgeon and I expect he'll order a new MRI which will likely show new problems.

    What bothers me more about your experience, and what many other people here report as well, is the completely different diagnoses by different doctors. If the diagnostic tests, like MRI, are that accurate then any qualified doctor should be able to look at them at see the same thing (or am I being naive /:)? ) I get the impression there is a significant amount of guesswork in these spinal diagnoses and that's more than just a little troubling to me. Maybe all of this is still just educated guessing and nobody can be expected to know for sure what is wrong with a person, but if that's the case then there are a lot of people who have major, life-changing surgeries based on some surgeon's educated guesswork.

    2009 Foraminotomy C6-72010 PLIF L4-S1Multi RFA's, cervical inj, lumbar injLaminectomy L3-4 and fusion w/internal fixation T10-L4 July 17Fusion C2-C5 yet to be scheduled
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  • I hear what you are saying. I have seen 3 Neurosurgs for my disc. 2 say that the C5-6 could be causing all my problems in both arms, the other says "no." I tend to agree with the other 2. One wrinkle I do have is a syrinx or persistent central canal at C6-7. There is some debate right now rather or not is a syrinx as in syringomyelia or just the persistent central canal. My Radiologist who walks on water says it is a persistent central canal and the Neurosurg from Hopkins is in agreement with him. But I have to have a follow-up MRI in a year (May 2010) to confirm that it has not grown. IF it is a syrinx this could cause pain in the left shoulder and arm, but I am pretty confident that it is just my disc wreaking havoc in both arms. The pain used to be really acute in my right arm, but now it is just minor, the pain is actually more annoying in my left, but neither is unbearable......yet.

    I am planning to have a posteior foraminotomy in Nov of this year.
  • I've had many mri's done in the course on my neck problems and even though my neuro and surgeon said that all my problems were from my neck,when they do an mri your always laying down which has to change how things are when your standing up and doing things.what the mri's show when your laying down i don't believe is a true aspect of whats going on when your standing up.i always thought that they should do mri's in the position that causes you the most problems so they know exactly what's going on. unfortunately that isn't possible.
  • c4 and c5 and c5 and c6 fused. The top had a crushed nerve and the c5,c6 had a pinched nerve. I had acdf about 5 weeks ago. I still have good days and bad days. I start PT and hope that helps.
    I did get a lot of arm and shoulder pain. I also get hand and finger pain.
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  • An MRI is a tool and is only as good as the doctor reading it. Some doctors only read the report and never look at the actual film while others make their own determination based on the film itself. I've had the same MRI read by 4 different people; one doctor (who did my first ACDF) said that I was fine and my ACDF was perfect, the other 3 determined that I had spinal cord damage and needed revision surgery right away.

    Even an MRI doesn't show everything. The damage in my cervical spine was worse than my first MRI showed and consequently I required a much more extensive surgery than anticipated. There is no diagnostic tool that is fool proof. With all my nerve damage I have never tested positive for it on an EMG, much to the suprise of my neurologist.

    If you feel that something isn't right it's always a good idea to get another opinion. It's better to be safe than sorry. There are other ways to diagnose problems in the discs as well. The main thing is to trust not only your gut but your doctor.

    I hope you get the answers that you need. It seems that these spine problems have us on a constant quest for the secrets...let me know if you find them!

  • Interesting Griff - my doctor is convinced since the emg is normal (carpel tunnel showed though i have had the surgery in both hands and that feels good) that the moderate herniation c5/6 is not causing my pain.

    I have had a pt who worked on my for 3 months 2-3 times a week - comment this - 1 - my muscles are the worst she has ever experienced (even botox injections did nothing to get them to relax) 2 - that perhaps what is triggering the muscles get fixed nothing will stop the spasms 3 - it doesn't really matter regardidng he emg 4 - she gave me names to nuerosurgeons - she said get another opinion.
  • My pain for the past 3 years up to now has been primarily my left arm. Now it is both. I had a 4 level laminectomy April 8th of this year. I have herniation, osteophytes from C-3 thru C-6. The neurosurgeon removed osteophytes and lamina on C-3 to 6 I believe.

    I continue to have the same level of pain on my left arm. Within the past few months my right arm has caught up. My neurosurgeon and back doctor both think I probably have permanent nerve damage.

    I think within the next few years I'll probably have asdf as well as right side laminectomy on my cervical spine. I've applied for SSDI as I can't use either hand or arms to work anymore.

    Ken GreyEagle
  • I've had an ACDF on 06/15 for C5/6. My arm/hand problems were worse in my right side, but was also in my left. My nerve study showed the same results along with carpal tunnel in my right hand. Have you had a nerve study done?

    For the past 3 weeks my left side has been so painful, like someone is driving a spike into the area between my neck and shoulder over and over. I had a new MRI and xrays and am scheduled for a myelogram this coming Monday. The MRI showed compressed nerve roots at C4/5 and C6/7 and some stenosis at C5/6, but my fusion looked good. My right hand buzzes.

    My point is that with cervical issues, arms and hands and shoulder blades are all affected. The pain can move around, and can be buzzing to pulsating to a dull ache. If you haven't had a nerve study, that would be good to show more detail where the issue is coming from. Myelograms with CT scan is good to show the condition of the spinal cord and nerves too.
  • I had c5, c6 ,and c7 fused 3 years ago. i only had pain in my neck left shoulder and down the back of my left arm to the fingers. the surgury releaved most of the neck and shoulder pain but the shooting pain down the arm remains. my surgeon described it simplistically as" if you park a car on a hose for a long time even though you remove the car, there is no guarantee the hose will pop back. regettabbly my did not.
    Pick the best surgeon you can find( referrals from other drs a not worth anything) research is your friend, and time is critical.

    good luck,

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