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HELP! Chronic neck pain & right arm weakness x6 mos. Physiatrist indicated pinched nerve or ALS :(

I was diagnosed with degenerative disk disease when I was 24 back in 2001. I had a lower lumbar laminectomy due to severe nerve impingement. My back was doing great and I lived an active lifestyle (biking, snowboarding, golfing occasionally etc…) About 5 years ago I started having increased back pain in addition to neck pain. The pain was rather low grade and I treated with OTC meds (Ibuprofen/tylenol) and was exacerbated by activity. In the past 2 years I’ve experienced right leg/foot weakness and numbness/pins needles and increased pain. I have an MRI which confirmed lumbar nerve impingement requiring surgical intervention. This is not my primary concern, just a little history.

Now my neck is hurting more x12 months and all along I just thought it was the degenerative process, so I didn’t see anyone, just treated with otc modalities. I went to my primary care provider (PCP) in March of 2016 and had an MRI done of my neck, which revealed mild degeneration. I now have a 6 month history of right arm weakness, my hand is awfully clumsy and weak (difficulty putting on deodorant, buttoning shirts etc….). I was diagnosed with mild carpal tunnel and was placed on oral prednisone which initially helped with some of my hand dexterity issues, which may explain some of this. However my EMG came back abnormal and the physiatrist suggested possible ALS. I am freaking out. It has been 3 weeks (still 2 months out until I can see neurosurgeon then neurologist) and I can’t seem to calm down. Has anyone else experienced this? My neck symptoms are as follows:
• Constant burning down my neck ending between my shoulder blades, many hours a day.
• Occasional piercing pain under my right shoulder blade
• Occasional radiating pain from neck to shoulder
• Occasional radiating pain from neck to elbow
• Frequent pain at the top of my spine, bottom of my head resulting in headaches
• Frequent numbness and pins/needles feeling in forearm/hand
• Grip strength is weakest in the morning, gradually gets stronger through the day
• Frequent joint pain in hand
• For years whenever bicycling >10 miles or so my right arm goes numb from elbow down
• When training for 100 mile bike rides I would be on the bike for hours, often times arm/hand going numb for over 2 days

My MRI from march (8 months ago) only revealed moderate degeneration, no impingement (according to my pcp, not a neurologist). My pcp looked at the EMG results and tried to calm me down saying it is probably not als and that there may be other explanations. My life hasn’t been the same since 3 weeks ago and whenever my hand ‘fails’ at a task, I get over anxious and get this doomed feeling.
Anybody else go through something similar? Can an MRI be incorrect and I have a nerve impingement?


  • hello, crzymtbiker!

    it sounds like you love to spend a lot of time outdoors! i am curious--have you ever been tested for lyme disease and its co-infections? lyme disease has been called the "great imitator", as the symptoms can mimic those of als, ms, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia--to name a few.

    i have carpal tunnel syndrome, as well, and those symptoms you mentioned sound very familiar! numbness, tingling, and sometimes my right hand will "freeze" up when i'm engaged in activities that require fine motor skills like writing, buttoning shirts, etc.

    i'd like to welcome you to spine-health! please click on the following link for some helpful information to get you started!

    welcome to spine-health
    Kimmy72, Spine-health Moderator
    Firm believer in PMA!
  • Bruce EitmanBruce Eitman Akron, OH, USAPosts: 1,510

    If it were me, I would want to have a spine specialist look at the MRI.


    Read my story at Bruce - My Story
    ACDF C4-C5-C6-C7, and getting better every day
    It has been a process of healing, learning, exercising, and resting - and figuring out when to do which.

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  • CarolP88CCarolP88 Western AustraliaPosts: 12
    edited 11/12/2016 - 2:42 PM
    It seems like alot can change in 8 months and perhaps something more has developed since your last MRI? I think getting another would be important if you have had such significant changes recently in your pain levels.

    It's currently 3:30am and I am on my tens machine trying to sleep on the couch because of the pain. I would highly suggest investing in a decent tens machine, it doesn't take away my nerve pain but it relaxes the muscle groups supporting the irritated nerve enough that you can sleep  relax, be pain free for a short period. It's not a long term solution but it might help you get through until you cab see the Dr again.
  • maehaleymaehaley PennsylvaniaPosts: 322
    Has anything else happened that may have caused an injury? Maybe you need an new MRI or like others said to have a spine specialist look at it. I am not trying to give medical advice but your symptoms sound very similar to mine. I have 2 herniated discs in my neck which impinge on the nerves and cause daily headaches, pain from the base of my skull, down into my neck and upper back, across my shoulder/shoulder blades and down into my arms with lots of painful muscle spasms in my traps and shoulder blade muscles. Many times this causes weakness or numbness and tingling in the hands and arms as well.

    Maybe a second opinion would be good?
  • Thanks for all your input, I have a spine neurosurgeon appt jan 4th and neurology appointment jan 5th. Unfortunately that is the quickest I can get in.

    @Kimmy72 , i will see if they will draw labs for lyme disease, I thought about that as well.

    @maehaley I did have a skiing accident in March and hit my head pretty hard, I was pretty sore for a while. Perhaps that caused an impingement of some sorts. My concern is if I have an impingement, I would assume I would have more intense pain. I have neck pain everyday, typically between 3-4 and only occasional pain reaching up to a 6 or so. I occasionally have radiating pain down my arm, but its only transient. I am hoping that there is a some sort of impingement, ALS would be devastating.
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  • Good deal! Never hurts to be as thorough about your care as possible. Just be sure that they include the Western Blot test as part of your labwork! :)
    Kimmy72, Spine-health Moderator
    Firm believer in PMA!
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