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Any Connection between Autoimmune Diseases and Back Disorders?

joer1980jjoer1980 Posts: 1
edited 06/11/2012 - 7:52 AM in New Member Introductions
Hi, I am new here. I have a history of back problems. I had a hemilaminectomy in 1999 at L4/5. In fall 2009 back pain began again and I was diagnosed with a herniated disc at L5/S1. Since that time, the pain has subsided, but one symptom has remained - numbness in my lower right leg. It is on the outside of the leg, crossing over to the top of my foot just above my ankle then spreading across the top of my foot into my big toe and the toe next to my big toe. I've had these symptoms for nearly two years now. I tried conservative treatments - PT, injections, and have been referred to two different surgeons during that time. The first surgeon about a year ago said I was not a candidate for surgery. The second surgeon, I began seeing a few months ago believes I am. He ordered an MRI and it shows I have a large bulging disc at L3/4 and a slight bulge at L5/S1. He wants to perform a laminectomy on both at the same time.

This would be my second back surgery, and I am 31. I am hesitant to proceed without first understanding the cause of my injuries, conditions and symptoms and how I can prevent future pain/injury. I've seen several doctors: my PCP, two surgeons, a physiatrist and two physical therapists. I hear different terms from all of them. I am told that I have
"advanced degeneration", "degenerative discs", "degenerative disc disease", "arthritic discs", "facet joint syndrome", "facet syndrome", "spinal stenosis", "stenosis", "thin discs".

I realize that some of these terms may be synonomous, however, I dont know for certain, as none of the several medical professionals I have seen in the past year and a half have taken the time to explain them to me. One doctor told me that "arthritic discs" and "degenerative disc disease" are synonomous, and by another doctor I was told they are not.

Complicating this is my family history. My sister, who is 28, has had two back surgeries and has suspected Reynaud's Syndrome and is currently undergoing tests for Rheumatoid Arthritis. My dad has always had back problems, but no specific dianosis and no surgeries. My mother has Mutliple Sclerosis, and her family has a strong history of autoimmune disease. Her eldest sister died of crohn's disease and also had paget's disease, and her younger sister has fibromyalgia. Out of their 12 cousins, 8 have or have had an autoimmune disease including RA, MS and Lupus.

I asked my surgeon's PA if it is possible there is a connection between my symptoms and my family history and was told "you need to worry about the problem you do have, and stop trying to create problems you dont have". I kinda feel like no one is listening to me. I am not saying there is a connection, but my sister's doctors had it wrong - at least it looks that way - two times before they realized that maybe its something else. I dont want to go down that path if I dont have to as I know recovery from back surgery is downright miserable.

Any suggestions? Am I seeing the wrong types of doctors? Am I asking the right questions? I noted some people on here recommend seeing a rheumatologist. I have called several after hearing some of my doctors refer to my discs as being arthritic and none of the rheumatologists will see me. All have told me that they "dont do back stuff" or some variant of that excuse. Does anyone understand why?

Any feedback is much appreciated. Thanks!


  • Hi joer1980, welcome to Spine Health! First off, browse around here as there is a wealth of information! You'll be able to wade through some of the terms they're throwing at you and get a feel for the docs that are grouping multiple things together into one term.

    I don't have the family history, but it is believed that I have MS, the neurologist is waiting for the signs to present before making the diagnosis. (There are definitely medical disorders that cause nerve problems! One good example is diabetic neuropathy.) I have dealt with lower back pain and numbness/tingling/electricity in one leg, progressing into both legs. I've been through the injections and meds and so many MRI's that I expect my local hospital to name the imaging ward after me (or my insurance company). All of my MRI's are normal! No structural/mechanical problems detected in any of them over several years. The meds don't help either. Two months ago I had a spinal cord stimulator implanted and that has given me a great deal of relief!

    What you need to do is use one of your doctors to be your advocate. I use my PCP because she knows me better than any of the others. She prescribes my meds (all of them) and makes referrals for me to see other doctors. I've ruled out Lupus and Lyme's disease. She has referred me to a rheumatologist twice to rule out RA. She's referred me to a physiatrist, PM doc and neurologist. If the rheumatologist knows that is why you want to see them then you should have no problems. Your PCP should have a "network" of specialists that can treat anything, including spinal issues, pain management, etc and will have more influence than if you contact a doctor out of the blue by yourself. The specialists will know that you wouldn't be there for no reason.

    And, of course, you need to be your own advocate when it comes down to it. If different doctors are telling you different things, then ask why. And if you see a doctor you don't like then find another (or have your PCP find you another). Keep the good ones and dump the bad ones.

    Good luck in your chronic pain journey and keep us posted! You'll find a lot of support here in the forums.
  • I know how frustrating this process is after having spent the last 3 years searching for answers myself.

    You should look into the seronegative spondyloarthropathies. With your strong family links and your aunt's crohns disease, it seems a likely candidate.


    Best of luck
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  • Have they done injection to test if its l3l4 thats the issue thats causing symptoms and also the l4l5 with a later injection to make sure lami has to be done on both?

    Why do both if only 1 level might be causing the leg issues, Any emg results?
    Its best to confirm what the direct cause is not just by the picture of an mri sometimes,

    Its there job to rule out any other posible cause before doing surgery including autoimmune so most neuro dr,s are able to rule that out,

    Best of luck,
    Flexicore ADR 2004 resulting nerve damage l4l5 Fusion 2006 same level, 2009 hardware removal with lami !
    2012 scs implant ,
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