Help us fix the pain in the neck
July 14, 2011 4:20 PM   Subscribe

The partner has two herniated discs in his neck C6/C7, as well as some disc bulges. Have you have success with treatment for the same problem in the same area? If so, what was it?

The orthopedic surgeon suggested shots and referred us to a "spinal specialist" for said shots. He didn't say anything about PT or surgery. If you've had herniated discs in your neck, what did you do for pain relief, both immediate and ongoing? (While I understand that lower-back and sciatic pain is more common, I don't think that they're exactly the same, so I'm specifically looking for pain-in-the-neck solutions.)
posted by Ollie to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would get a second opinion from a physiatrist (rehab medicine doctor). If the surgeon does not think surgery is in order, that is great news. The down side is that the only two options you really have are PT or shots.

PT could be very beneficial.

I have had herniated discs in both the lower and upper back. I noticed a change in my overall neck health from day one when I began PT for my neck.

Heat also helped me a lot for the neck. Be careful not to overdo it. It is easy to give yourself a headache from too much heat to that area. My physiatrists and surgeon have told me that heat is preferable to ice because it relaxes the muscles that surround the structures that are hurt, but I can use whichever gives me relief.

Some people get very good results from the various kinds of shots. I did not. I had categorically negative experiences with shots-- steroids, nerve blocks, etc. Doing several rounds of shots delayed surgery that I needed. That said, your surgeon has apparently ruled out your need for surgery.

Even though I had bad experiences with shots, I think that the patient-run websites about shots overstate the risks and do not give a good sense of what the can do for you.

Usual caveats are in order: I am not a doctor, every person's condition is different.

So: 1) get a second opinion from rehab medicine doctor for PT referral, 2) heat, 3) in the meantime, give shots a try.
posted by vincele at 4:46 PM on July 14, 2011

I knew my body craved fish oil for my immune system, but just on a lark I took an extra large dose last month and was shocked that my neck pain completely disappeared. I would never have figured that out if I hadn't tried it. So, I am saying my pain seems to be 100% caused by inflammation. It would be a clue if this would work for you if ibuprofen helps. Ibuprofen helps but never completely removes the pain. Fish oil completely removes the pain for me. I take 5,000 Mgs once or twice a day. It seems like a lot to me. You should ask your doctor before taking that much.

I have what I consider a pinched nerve in my neck.
posted by cda at 5:37 PM on July 14, 2011

I have herniation in C5/C6. I've also been sent for shots (appointment is this month). I'm optimistic.

What I have tried: ice, heat, stretching, traction, new pillows/mattress, deliberate posture control, limiting time reading and on the computer, muscle relaxants, bed rest, low and high dose anti inflammatories, iron/magnesium/calcium/multivitamin supplements, and narcotic pain relief.

What has worked: basically nothing.

The best I can do is keep overall pain levels as managed as possible and gently stretch often. The numbness/tingling in my arms has made me exceedingly clumsy so I try to not handle anything expensive or breakable.

But I'd definitely get a second opinion if the shots don't help. PT is also a good idea. It sounds like the doctor isn't listening all that well - so you may need to push to get a referral to PT.

The bottom line is that neck disk herniation is painful and hard to treat. I literally feel you partner's pain and it sucks. The best thing you can do is keep being so supportive.
posted by guster4lovers at 5:47 PM on July 14, 2011

In my experience, most orthopedic surgeons will first try anti-inflammatories and PT first, to see if that resolves the symptoms.

So, this is not a recommendation to take over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and avoid seeing a doctor. It's (another) recommendation to see another doctor. This is not something to trifle with.
posted by yclipse at 5:51 PM on July 14, 2011

I have herniated disks in C4/5. 5/6 and 6/7 as the result of an automobile accident 54 years ago. (Yes, you read that right, 54 years ago.) I have had every "state of the art" treatment that has evolved over those years. My suggestion is to listen carefully to the orthopedic surgeon, especially if the advice is not to do any cutting. Do as you are told and evaluate your progress. If you are not receiving relief, then is the time to discuss other options, including second opinion and alternative treatments. This is a delicate place to have an injury and taking it a step at a time is a very good approach.

Best wishes
posted by Old Geezer at 7:56 PM on July 14, 2011

I had a herniated disk at C6-C7. I tried physical therapy and various anti-inflammatories for about a year. (I never got a shot, although I don't recall why.) Even though the treatments helped a little with the pain, I eventually started to experience occasional periods of numbness down my dominant (right) arm. At that point, the neurosurgeon I was seeing said there really wasn't anything more that could be done except to surgically remove the disc (discectomy). The numbness was pretty much the last straw. According to him, if I didn't get surgery, I was risking permanent nerve damage.

So, I had the surgery. He slurped out the offending disk through a small slit in the front of my neck, and put in a very lovely metal piece that has four screws holding it in place to support the C6-C7 vertebrae. They also used cadaver bone to cover this metal brace, so that my own bone would grow around it.

And I have been COMPLETELY pain-free since the surgery (10 years now). Seriously, I woke up in recovery, puked my brains out, and from that point on had no more pain.

However, major surgery is no picnic. I had a nasty reaction to the anesthesia, and I apparently am a bigger wimp than I thought, because it was several months before I felt like "me" again. I was very tired and weak for a while afterward.

The only residual effect (after I regained my strength) is a noticeable reduction in my neck's range of motion. When I'm driving in reverse, whereas before I could turn almost completely around to the right to see behind me, now I have to turn to the left as well to see on that side.

I'm also much more conscious of my posture. My doctor and PT suggested that sitting in front of a computer with my chin jutting forward, for years and years, was partly to blame for my disk problem.

Feel free to ask me any questions. I wouldn't choose to go through surgery again if I had other options.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:06 PM on July 14, 2011

I had disk problems in that location, causing pain and tingling on my arm and hand. I tried physical therapy, which didn't help much. I tried acupuncture, which seemed promising -- a needle placed in my upper back sent a zing right down the nerve that I'd been feeling in my arm and hand -- but it didn't provide any lasting relief. I then got an epidural steroid injection, and it worked fantastically. I'm still 99% cured, several years later. My doctor has been very surprised at that, so it may not be common that it's as effective as it has been for me.
posted by daisyace at 1:52 PM on July 16, 2011

if you're still reading this - the book Treat Your Own Neck has REALLY REALLY helped me (thanks for the suggestion, random commenter in AskMe!). Get it. Yesterday.
posted by guster4lovers at 11:33 PM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

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