I used to have periodic “pain in the neck”, especially in the years of keeping my head in the books in college and graduate school.  But since I was introduced to the McKenzie method and became certified in it, there has been hardly any episode of neck pain that I could recall.

One day last Spring as I squatted down to pet my dogs–the activities I do a million times a day–I suddenly felt tingling and numbness in my right forearm, then my right hand and the first few fingers.  “This is not a good sign!” I thought to myself, “symptoms down my hand is quite alarming.”  I then began a series of evaluation on myself using the McKenzie method…and my conclusion was: cervical stenosis vs. tumor pressing on my spinal cord when I extend my neck.

Let me explain my consideration of the possibilities for just a little bit.  As a principle, the further down the symptoms are, the more serious the derangement is in the neck, or back.  For example, symptoms in the foot reveal a more serious condition of the back than if the symptoms are in the thigh.  Therefore, if it is stenosis, it must be quite large, since my symptoms are all the way down to my fingers.  But if it is a tumor, I had better find out as soon as possible.

A friend of mine is a physician and I discussed my situation with him.  He was convinced that I should get a MRI.  I took the MRI and the report came back stating that I had severe degeneration, herniation, stenosis, and bone spur in C4-5, C5-6, C6-7 with C5-6 being the worst.  I was glad that it was not a tumor, but the severity did not give me a whole lot of relief.  An old friend of mine is a successful neurosurgeon in Houston, TX and he read my MRI.  He said to me, “Irene, your MRI warrants surgery–cervical fusion and discectomy–ASAP, but do everything you can conservatively before you run out of options.”

I have helped numerous patients recover from their spinal problems, so it was time to get my share of benefit from the McKenzie method.  Still, I bore in mind that there was a possibility for a clinically significant stenosis, like mine, to be incurable conservatively.  Therefore, everyday, and many times a day, I faithfully performed the McKenzie exercises, and kept my posture right at all times.  I had my husband and coworkers help me in taping or watching my back for good posture.  During the first week, I noticed a slight decrease in the symptom frequency.  About 6 weeks later, the tingling and numbness anywhere in the arm all disappeared.  Right now, as I am writing this on January 19, 2007, I have been symptom-free for the last 8 months.

At times, I still wonder why I, as a PT dealing with spinal problems everyday, would get such a problem, but I see now from personal experience that many severe symptoms can truly be hidden until they decide to surface without mercy.  The fabulous fact I discovered in my experience is that even though severe spinal derangements can come unexpectedly, there is an enormous possibility that they can be resolved conservatively, indeed.

Written by Irene Acevedo, PT, MS, Cert MDT for Core Rehabilitation and Spine Center

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