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Stiff Necked

My neck has hurt me off-and-on for the past four years or so. Other than to put heated neck pillows on it and look forward to warmer weather, when it generally feels better, I haven’t thought too much about it. Some people have achy backs, other achy knees. With me, it’s my neck. No biggie.

Then, about ten days ago, I felt pins and needles go up and down my arm, as though I had cut off the circulation. Only I hadn’t; I was just sitting down reading the newspaper at the time. Later that day, it happened again. And so, for the next several days, I’d feel a strange tingling sensation radiate from my shoulder at odd intervals during the day.

It was time to see the doctor, and when I did, Dr. Weiss declared it time to get an MRI. This seemed like overkill to me, and I feared an insurance rejection. The results were enlightening:

  1. I have disc bulges at C3-C4 and C4-C5;
  2. I have a disc protrusion (herniated disc) and spinal stenosis  at C5-C6 ;
  3. at C6-C7 I have another disc protrusion, this one is touching a nerve root.

In other words, my neck is a mess. My brother tells me that the bulges and maybe even the herniated discs are pretty normal for someone my age, but there’s no getting around the stenosis and nerve interference. There’s also no getting around the fact that I have an estimated 41+ years left with this neck, a scary prospect when it’s already in such bad shape.

The plan of treatment is (1) physical therapy, with a goal towards avoiding; (2) steroids, specifically an epidural injection; both of which are designed to ward off (3) surgery. That I’m a long way away from surgery was indicated by the doctor when she called with MRI results. That she feels it is a long-term inevitability was indicated by the fact that my chart and MRI results were nonetheless faxed to a neurosurgeon.

Yesterday was my first trip to the physical therapist. After Tim manipulated my neck in strange in uncomfortable positions, resulting in its cracking and popping like knuckles on some movie bad guy, I could move my neck in ways I haven’t been able to for years. Then I got massaged. Then I ran through exercises. Then I got a strange electrode massage that teetered between weird, painful, and relaxing.

Tim and I will be repeating these dates twice a week for as many weeks as needed. I also need to implement a pretty serious life-style change. Tim called my ailment “reader’s neck”. While genetics certainly has played a part, I have done some pretty serious damage to myself by spending years and years hunched over books and/or computers. My first question to Tim was whether I could still run. He laughed. “Run all you want; anything to keep you away from books and computers.”

And of course, when I am reading and/or in front of a computer, I have to change my posture. “It’s the hardest thing in the world” Tim tells me, and I believe him. But, to quote Yoda and my son here, “There is no try.” I have to do this, and I have to do it quickly. In a year I’ve gotten off the couch, learned to run, and strengthened my core in pilates, I have one more physical task to add to the pile.

My neck is on the line.

3 Responses to “Stiff Necked”

  1. Amanda says:

    My friend Pack is a yoga instructor and makes fantastic chairs: http://mysoulseat.com/ Pricey but you can’t slouch.

  2. Amanda says:

    Oh, and poor you! Bette Davis said “growing old is not for sissies” and she wasn’t kidding.

  3. blg says:

    I am going through much the same thing. So I am 200% sympathetic.

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