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Spinal Cord Disorders Message Board

Spinal Cord Disorders Board Index

Hi Jennsunshine...I'm Jenny who's not so sunny right now as I'm recoveing from spine surgery #3. My neck is fused from C3 to T1 due to similar problems as yours but in my case, it was at C3-4-5-6 and 7. I think if I can explain some of the spine anatomy to you and how the whole thing works, you'll see why you hurt.

So you have all these vertebrae separated by disks...and the disks are on the throat side of the spine, the spinal canal is on the backside. Your spinal cord comes out of the base of the brain and down through the canal and like the brain, has no nerve endings of it's own so it doesn't hurt. But at each vertebra, a pair of spinal nerves peels off the cord and they go off to opposite sides and out to the body. They do have nerves and can hurt from the first millimeter of the nerve fiber. There are no nerves coming out between C1 and 2 as they rotate too much to allow it. The nerves that come out at C2 serve the back of the head and front of the throat. C3 serves an area roughly equivalent to where you might wrap a scarf around your neck. C4 covers the shoulder area. C5 serves the area on the outsides of the upper arms(think of holding your arms with the thumbs outward). Your problems are with C6, which serves the outer aspect of the lower arms down into the thumb and index finger. C7 serves the shows up as affecting the middle finger. And C8(which comes out between C7 and T1, does the inside of the lower arm as well as the ring and pinky fingers.

BUT....and it's a huge but...C5,6,7,8 and T1 all come together in the shoulder at something called the brachial plexus where the nerves get intertwined. So a C6 problem can show up in any of the areas affected by any of the other nerves of the brachial plexus. So that is why you can be using a part of your hand that feels okay and then all of a sudden, you get pain in another area of the's all affected.

Now back to the cord itself.You also have an impact on the front of the cord. The cord is merely a bundle of nerves all packed together and pressure anywhere can result in problems anywhere below that level. So it won't hurt in the neck as there are no nerve endings but the pressure can result in leg problems. Doesn't cause pain like pressure on the nerves in the lower back but instead, it shows up as things like numbness, muscles that don't work quite right, trouble walking or with balance. I had numb toes, walked some days like a drunk and other days my thighs were so stiff I took baby steps. You can find yourself developing problems with incontinence or an inability to go...urine or feces.

So that is why we get so many weird symptoms...cord does one thing to us and the nerves do another and they crisscross on top of it.

And just to make things even more complicated, the cord pressure can affect your arms too....after all, it's anywhere below the level of pressure and if there is pressure at C6-7, the C8 and T1 nerves can be affected and cause numbness and muscle dysfunction and clumsiness.

Believe it or not, most docs won't operate until you have either severe foraminal stenosis(the spinal nerves) or moderate cord stenosis(down to 6-8 millimeters of thickness from a norm of 11-12 millimeters). That's because surgery always carries a risk of paralysis so they wait as long as they can.

But you should keep track of these symptoms(keep a symptom journal so you do remember) and write down the leg sensations, any numbness you feel, the arm pains...anything you think might be part of the problem..including needing to go to the bathroom faster than you used to).

You have any questions, let me know. I've learned a ton..most of it the hard way.

Thanks so much for the fabulous anatomy lesson, jennybyc; it certainly helps a lot!

I did see a neurosurgeon last week. I have no doubt that he is very good, but his feedback to me was that my MRI was 'unremarkable', and in his opinion it did not require surgery. Essentially, there wasn't anything there that he could fix, nor could he give me an really good diagnostic answers.

From there (and after being really discouraged and frustrated), I got the name of a very interesting chiropractor who utilizes something called the McKenzie Method. What little I understand of it so far, is that it is a technique that uses PT and certain exercises to extend the spine (no big adjustments...yay!), so that pain becomes more centralized and away from the extremities. The basic idea is that in general back pain is more easily tolerated and treatable than arm or leg pain. Just speaking from my personal experience recently I'd have to agree. Oddly, even with the various back pains/issues that I have had off and on over the years, they were never as distracting, nor did they limit my functionality the way these arm issues have. I'm willing to give this a shot to see if we can figure something out.

Anyhow, this new doc. had me do various movements and resistance exercises to get a sense of my neurophysiology. His basic assessment is that I have this feedback loop going on that is mechanical in nature (triggered by different movements) that originated from the accident, and the nerves running up and down my arm from my cervical spine are way over-stimulated right now. Essentially, we need to figure a way to teach my brain not to continually fire off the pain message/response that gets the circuit going. The good news is that he did not believe that there is any nerve or muscle damage. I've also been advised not to do the stretching exercises that I have been taught over these past months, because they (and the upper body bike I was using) may actually be part of the underlying issue that has kept going and going and going....

What I am learning is that the nervous system is extraordinarily complex and easily misunderstood, sometimes even by those who have been studying it for years. It sounds like there is still so much that can be learned. I've come to the conclusion that if more conventional or traditional paths aren't coming up with reasonable answers, then the not so traditional is worth considering.

Even with this new hope I am going to be very mindful that I do have relatively mild (at this time) issues/concerns with my cervical spine. It's quite possible that much of it existed prior to my accident; however, it probably got quite jarred by the accident and set off a bit of a hornet's nest. I want to calm the nest down - or eradicate it as much as possible - and I will do whatever I can to maintain and prevent additional damage or harm (including further accidents!).

Wishing all the best to everyone on this board!


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