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Is hand weakness/pain due to c5-c6

Greetings All,

I have been trying to figure out for almost a year if my hand problems are caused by my neck issues.

After months of neck pain I had an MRI over a year ago that shows a C5-C6 bulging disc mostly on the right side, some on the left side. My Orthopedic surgeon recommended ACDF. The pain was/is manageable, so I tried PT. The PT didn't help much, but steroid injections in the neck did.

My main problem is that about four months after the MRI I started having some pain and slight weakness when gripping a football with my right hand. I had a hand doctor x-ray and look at the hand, and he didn't see anything. Then my handwriting got very messy. I could write neatly if I wrote very slowly, but it made my hand very sore afterwards. Eventually it got to where typing or using the mouse would make my hand ache after only a few minutes. My Ortho sent me for a nerve conduction test. It was negative for carpal tunnel. Also, an EMG showed very slight nerve impact at C5 and C6 on the right side - no glaring cause for the hand issues.

I started using my left hand to do the mouse and type with. This allowed my right hand to rest and not ache, but eventually the left hand started doing the same thing. Now my left hand is about half as bad as my right. My Ortho surgeon and my Neuro surgeon (2nd opinion) both think the hand(s) may be caused by the neck, but are not sure. They want me to have a fusion or disc replacement.

My sticking point is that the pain is not typical of what I read for people with cervical disc problems. My hands are NOT sore if I don't use them. If I just sit and watch TV they feel OK, though there is a weak/non-responsive feel to them. There is some very modest weakening to their grip, but they are still very strong. I don't have numbness or tingling. Just pain after doing anything that requires fine motor control gripping. HAS ANYONE EXPERIENCED THIS STRANGE "USAGE PAIN" FROM A BULGING CERVICAL DISC?? I really don't want to do surgery and find out that the hand problem is some other neurological goodie unrelated to the neck. I can handle the neck pain just fine, but the hands getting worse is a serious issue.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give,


  • Hi coach and welcome to the forum:) I have similat symptoms to you. I have had numbness in hands at night when sleeping. Will wake with numbness and tingling but no pain in hands but I do have pain in elbows. I have had surgery for tennis elbow in left elbow and still have occasional pain in left but pain in right can be severe. I had EMG last week to make sure that it was not coming from herniation at C6-7 level or carpal tunnel. The EMG came back normal for carpal and cervical nerva pain but found that I have ulnar nerve pinched in both elbows with left severe and right moderate to severe. The reason I shared this with you was to let you know that I had no idea that it was my elbows causing this numbess. Dr. said that repetitive movements and hypothyroidism are what caused mine. I did not know that thyroid disease is 2nd leading cause of nerve damage ony behind diabetes:( I hope this has helped and please keep in touch and let us know what you find out.



    Yes, I do!
    It is actually quite good to hear that someone else out there has this same thing. (Sorry that you are suffering though!)

    I have cord compression in my neck at two levels, and have symptoms in my legs too.

    The aching of my hands when I try to grip anything for longer than about 1 minute has been with me for over two years. When tested, my strength is ok, but when I use my hands to grip anything, they start to ache terribly. If I write more than a short paragraph, my handwriting becomes awful (embarrassing as I take a handwriting group at the school where I work!) I also find that when typing, I make far more mistakes than I used to and often get repeated letters where my hand doesn't pick up as I intend. Peeling vegetables causes this aching and sometimes even gripping my toothbrush to clean my teeth. I also get aching arms from lifting them to hang washing and dry my hair.

    My EMG and nerve testing showed that their was no compression of my carpal tunnel or the ulnar nerve. The doctor said that there is compression in my neck, and that the EMG showed chronic neurogenic changes in my deltoid, biceps in both arms and less in my triceps. Apparently this is in line with cervical radiculopathy.

    I do have intermittant tingling, pricking, numbness and aching in my hands and arms (and feet and legs). I have had these symptoms for over two years now.

    I have been told that I will need to have a 2 level ACDF on C3/4 and C4/5 where there is compression on the cord. I do have nerve root compression bilaterally from C4 to C7. My neurosurgeon says that we should do the ACDF first and see what relief I get from that, but that he may need to do surgery from the back afterwards.

    I am not medically trained, but think that as the steroid injections in the neck helped, that rather indicates that is where the problem lies. Sometimes an MRI doesn't show quite how bad the problem is. Many people, after surgery, say that their surgeon said once he was in there, things were worse than he thought.

    Hopefully you will get some other posts that will give you more information.
    Take care and please let us know what you decide to do.
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  • I am having same weakness with usage and as jelly said I didnt notice till you mentioned alot of double letters while typing. i had 3 Level ACDF C4-C7 4/16/12. I did not have any hand issues before surgery and spine surgeon told me it has nothing to do with my neck. He referred me to a rheumatologist for joint testing. That appt is end of next month. Hope my hands hold out ! My wrists ache with the slightest movement and my hands feel like I have been holding something heavy, they just feel tired. No numbness, No Tingling nothing like that. So All I can tell you is do not be so sure the ACDF will fix the hand issues. I am starting to have ankle and feet issues too! So im am sure mine is joint related and I hope to get some answers. My neck fusion is doing great if I didnt have the joint discomfort life would be close to perfect!!!Get 2nd and 3rd opinions, this surgery is tough..I did not feel better till 13 weeks post op but i had 3 levels. So good luck to you and I hope you get some answers. Blessings KIm
    Kimberly Martin
  • Coach_WaltCCoach_Walt Posts: 2
    edited 08/30/2012 - 6:26 AM
    Thank you all so much for your input. Glad to hear there are others with similar complaints, though I am sorry that anyone would have to deal with this. I really feel that the hands could be something different. I was able to get my neurosurgeon to refer me to a neurologist that specializes in movement disorders - still waiting for the scheduling call.

    It's frustrating. I really want the hands to be related to the neck so I know the cause and can deal with it, but my gut feeling is that it is something else. I do not want to have surgery and find out that it was not needed yet. I am only 43 yrs old, so I fear needing more surgeries down the road.
  • LovetrotravelLLovetrotravel Posts: 296
    edited 08/30/2012 - 9:29 AM
    I'm very surprised that Drs. are actually saying that hand weakness and/or soreness has nothing to do with disc issues in the neck?

    That is the hallmark symptom that actually prompts most people to seek out a Dr. in the first place.

    You can easily google Cervical Dermatome Chart and it will show you exactly which area of the spine effects which area of the body.

    I have had 3, two-level, cervical fusions...The first one took care of most of my pain and issues with my arms/hands/fingers...but after a few years it started back again. Of course this is along with neck pain as well....

    But after 3 fusions...and the last one was Anterior and Posterior....there is some permanent damage to my nerves and I can only write or type for a few minutes at a time as it becomes too painful. I also have the worst trouble trying to wash my hair as lifting my arms/hands they go numb instantly and feel incredibly heavy.

    It's not like there can't be actual other issues that someone may have like carpal tunnel....but anyone with cervical disc issues usually have trouble like this...
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  • This is how I found out I had problems with my cervical spine in the first place.
    My PM doctor who I origionally went to for carpal tunnel and ulnar nerve compression suspected something was wrong with my neck because of the problems I was having with my arms and hands. He looked at the xrays my primary care dr. had order (and just blew off) and noticed I had some serious problems in my cervical spine.
    The PM doc. , 2 spine specialists and my neurosurgeon all did tests on my hands and asked about pain in my hands and arms when they did their exams.

    I, too, have trouble typing or writing for very long.. I get "writers cramp" very quickly. My fingers have a mind of their own sometimes so i am constantly having to correct my typing... which i get bored of so I just leave it when I can... so sorry for the messy typing:) I have trouble holding on to things and have a major case of the "dropsies". It gets very frustrating.

    As my neck problems progress it does affect my hands and arms. Not everyone who has arm and hand pain have cervical issues and some who have cervical issues don't have arm and hand pain/issues. Just make sure your doctor rules everything else out. you may be one of the lucky ones who if you choose to have surgury it will solve all the weakness and pain issues.

    I hope you find your answers soon so that you can feel better:)
  • C5-6 nerves control the wrist extenders and that's why you are having problems with your grip. That happened to me the day of my surgery when they performed neurological tests. I couldn't hold my hands up when they pressed on them.

    I sew and the couple of weeks before my surgery I had a hard time holding a needle. It's like having "writer's cramp". After the surgery they had improved in the recovery room but when I went to see the surgeon the next week I still had some weakness.
  • You guys need to look at something that shows the dermatones of the body-that is a map of the body that shows which parts are affected by which nerves. There are also maps of the body that show which nerves affect which muscles. If you have a problem with C5-6 it will cause problems with the wrist extenders. If your neurosurgeon is telling you it's not from your neck I would seek a second opinion.

    Not a medical person but this is from my experience. I had loss of strength in my wrist and was told it was due to the problem I had at c5-6.
  • jp91jjp91 Posts: 2
    edited 09/10/2012 - 3:59 AM
    -EMG will show damage, but its not always going to indicate whether you have nerve compression or irratation.
    -CT/Myelogram will give the Dr a much clearer view of the nerves in the cervical spine

    Even though your symptoms are in your wrist/hand doesn't mean its not coming from your cervical spine, in fact too many people are misdiagnosed when they present symptoms like yourself and are usually (not in your case though) diagnosed with Carpel tunnel or something similar. For instance, people that have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome or a Brachail Plexus Injury usually have to go through Heck and years before they are diagnosed properly because Doctors always jump to the typical causes. So, keep studying and educating yourself so you can ask the right questions and make the correct decisions because you don't want to have a surgery for something that was never the REAL issue in the first place. Good Luck and keep looking at the cervical spine for your answer as thats where its most likely coming from.
    C5/C6 Anterior Fusion 2011
    L5/S1 Lumbar Fusion 2004
    --Chronic Neck, Right Shoulder, Right Arm, Upper Pectoral Pain after C5/C6 Fusion
    --Mod Trapezius Atrophy after C5/C6 Fusion
  • juliek75jjuliek75 Posts: 10
    edited 09/10/2012 - 10:40 AM
    Yeah, I notice the same thing. My handwriting has gone downhill and using the mouse or anything makes my hand sore, I often wandered the same thing if it was related to my C5, C6 bulges. Also it's frustrating because I never had to ask my husband to open jars for me before but lately I just don't have the hand strength to grip it, it's very self-defeating because I always prided myself in being tough for a girl.
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