While I had some mild neck and shoulder pain for many years, it was tolerable and never caused any real distress until November 2010. I experienced an acute onset of severe symptoms. I woke in the middle of the night with excruciating shooting pain and intense numbness running down my right arm. After this, my pain improved slightly but I was left with intermittent and unpredictable pain for the next several months. Nothing specific seemed to trigger it; the daily uncertainty that it might come back at any time was terrifying.
At the end of 2010, I was losing weight dieting and became much more active, mountain biking on a regular basis, but slowly my pain made it harder to engage in even everyday activities. Eventually, my pain became so agonizing that I had to decide whether or not I would go to work, how long I could stay, and what I would be able to do aside from lay in bed or live inactive. My mood was greatly affected; I became irritable, short-tempered, and impatient due to the constant pain. I would snap at family and friends, interrupt them, or hurry them along. I even remember lamenting that my pain had been affecting me for so long that I wasn’t sure if it would ever go away. I was incredibly worried that this pain had hard-wired something new in me.
After failing usual medications and physical therapy treatments, I knew I couldn’t live this way. I started looking seriously for a spinal specialist to help me. In May of 2012, I visited Virginia Spine Institute to seek a solution. I had an EMG nerve test that showed acute nerve damage in my C6 nerve root and my x-rays and MRI showed evidence of degenerative arthritis with a disc herniation, clearly compressing my nerve. My C5/6 disc level had degenerative disc disease. I had numbness and weakness on my exam and we discussed the possibility of continued conservative management including medications, injections, and physical therapy versus the possibility of surgery.
I decided ultimately to have an anterior cervical fusion at my C5/6 level. Immediately after waking up from my surgery, the pain in my arm was gone and sensations had returned. The numbness and pain had set on so slowly and each day I endured it in a new way, but following the operation, it was like actually being awake and fully aware again. Without the constant pain, my mood stabilized and my outlook became incredibly positive.
At six months out from surgery, I had zero neck pain and zero symptoms in my upper extremities. I felt I had a normal posture and my strength and sensation had all returned to normal.
The relief I felt and still feel has allowed me to drive my life forward with an incredible amount of purpose. I’m doing all the things I did before, but able to do them more often and with greater intensity. I’ve been riding better than ever before. My work is improving and all of my hobbies come with ease that I feel like I haven’t had for years.
I would tell people suffering from this kind of pain to trust in medical science. Make sure a doctor can run the right tests to get real, usable information. Finding a great, dedicated group of people to deliver appropriate treatment means everything. Everyone at Virginia Spine Institute, from the staff and physical therapists to my surgical team was incredibly invested in helping me.