A pain in the neck

Surprise, surprise. Prednisone and just plain back luck strike again, this time in my neck and spine.

A while back I began having soreness and pain in my neck and shoulders, especially when I turned my head from side to side. I didn’t think much of it at the time, I figured it was probably just some sore muscles or tendons from playing the guitar too much. I started doing some mild neck stretching exercises and put my bass playing on hold for a couple of weeks, but the pain wasn’t easing up and actually got worse.

So now I’m thinking maybe this is more than just achy muscles, could it be arthritis? After all, Im getting to that age where things start wearing out. It wasn’t until I started having headaches, nausea and balance issues, that I figured it was time to get this all checked out.

Because of the nature of the problem, a Zoom appt wasn’t appropriate, so my doctor sent me to the local Urgent care center for an in-person visit. While there, they did a physical exam, xrays and the following day, an MRI. Here are the results of the MRI.

Turns out that on top of a mix of congenital and age-related stenosis of the cervical spine,I also have what they call “Myelomalacia“, essentially the softening of the spinal cord. When I asked my Ortho doc if Myelomalacia was common, she explained it to me this way…..

Decades of prednisone use hasn’t helped matters and it may have even masked the symptoms. Ive had bone loss in other parts of my body for many years due to the steroids, but because of all the fitness walking I’ve done, I’ve been able to strengthen the muscles surrounding those bones. My last dexa-scan in 2019 showed that my bone density had actually increased. I went from having full blown Osteoporosis to Osteopenia without needing to take meds. Exercising is super important when you have bone loss issues in your arms, legs and hips, so it seems logical that this would apply to the vertebrae in your neck as well, though it wouldn’t reverse the damage already done.

It’s not so much dealing with the arthritis part; I suppose if you live long enough, just about everything’s gonna break down. Rather, it’s Myelomalacia that has me (and my Ortho doc) a bit concerned. Unfortunately, most of these conditions tend to get worse over time and can lead to some serious neurological problems. Given the high location of the stenosis in my spine, there’s the potential that I could suffer paralysis of my breathing muscles, ie the diaphragm. If that were to happen, it would mean living on a ventilator for the rest of my life. Thanks, but No Thanks!

This is type of affliction is new territory for me. Unlike my respiratory issues which cause major discomfort in the form of breathlessness, these neck and spinal problems are causing actual pain, sometimes SEVERE pain. Just moving my head the wrong way can trigger a muscle spasm that feels like a lightning bolt shooting down my neck. And the pain radiating down my arm is crazy. But it’s not just the pain or the effect it has on one’s physical mobility, it also effects your sleep and your overall emotional health. I have a hard enough time sleeping with my lung issues as it is, the last thing I need is pain to go along with it. Curiously, the area where the stenosis is the worse, is directly behind my “other” stenosis..ie my Glottic stenosis. How weird is that?

Im sure the need for some sort of surgical intervention will come up, but because Im not the best surgical candidate, nor do I really want someone to messing around my spinal cord, physical therapy and other non-invasive treatment modalities Ive read about will most likely be the path I would take, at least for now. As long as I can control the pain and maintain most of my mobility, Im good. Ironically, steroid injections are one of the common treatments.

I didn’t mean for this post to come off like a poor- me story, it’s just that Im getting frustrated and a bit overwhelmed by the crazy things my body does. Why can’t I have “normal” illnesses? You know like garden variety asthma or run of the mill COPD, instead of mega severe asthma and a weird form of bronchiolitis. Having classic vocal cord disfunction (VCD) would have been preferred over a god-awful glottic stenosis that requires on-going surgeries. And while we’re at it, why cant I have mild allergic reactions instead life-threatening ones like the one I had after receiving the Shingles vaccine. Same goes for this latest problem. Why can’t I just simple arthritis and stenosis? Why does their have to be so much drama? Just typing this short post took me forever and was quite painful. In the future I might have to dictate my blog entries instead of typing them, but I think that would feel odd.

Oh well, that’s life. Things could always be worse, right? Just like with my other medical problems, I’ll find a way to adapt to this one. Thankfully my spine problems haven’t affected my ability to walk (yet) that would totally suck. And interestingly, my doctors are actually encouraging me to continue playing the guitar if it doesn’t hurt too much, because they think it’s helping me maintain my fine motor skills. OK, Sounds good to me.

UPDATE(3-18-2022)

Until being examined and reviewing test results with the Ortho and Neuro docs, I totally underestimated the severity of my condition. Apparently, there’s really no conservative or non-surgical treatment for severe myelopathies, other than pain meds and steroids. The condition will inevitably get worse if not surgically corrected. Any type of Physical therapy or excessive force in the neck region could actually cause more trauma to spinal cord. They’re highly recommending decompression surgery as soon as possible to prevent further damage.

Even though I’ve now agreed to go forward with the surgery plan, my lung issues could complicate matters. Waiting now for my Pulmonologists to weigh in.

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