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Spinal Cord Disorders Message Board

Spinal Cord Disorders Board Index

Hi all -
Many thanks for this message board as I've been perusing around quite a bit trying to educate myself on recent MRI results and subsequent Neurosurgeon consults. I have two opposite Neurosurgeon opinions on whether surgery is necessary or not; Neurologist is adamant that surgery is needed. So, now I am trying to get another opinion and am wondering if

1.Others have had these opposite opinions, and if so, what did you do?

2.Any advice on specific questions to ask the next doc (going to another neurologist and another neurosurgeon soon) – will ask about laminoplasty, thanks Jennybyc

3.It seems as if the Neurologist is the one who makes the ‘diagnosis’ of the severity symptoms, while the Neurosurgeon evaluates the MRI results for surgical intervention, so maybe the better second opinion is one of a neurologist and not a neurosurgeon? Anyone else think this?

4.I read in one post “the idea is do the surgery before the cord shows signs of damage.” Regarding stenosis v. compression (jennybyc). So how do you know when the cord shows signs of damage? how does one determine where on a scale of 1-10 we are?

I don’t want to be driven to surgery by fear, but I also don’t want to put my head in the sand and say I don’t need surgery, so any insights would be appreciated!! I’ve read that the earlier the intervention is in the deterioration process, the better the prognosis… BUT the risk of having damage to other discs and having to go through it again is scary too. BUT the idea of walking around knowing this is could get worse or I could trip and fall and be in a bigger mess is scary, BUTBUTBUT – all the same “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” feelings I’ve seen expressed in other posts here, so I guess no need to reiterate them : ) and I'm terrified of surgery.

Sorry in advance for the lengthy bit below, but for those interested, here’s the history w MRI @ bottom:

My first visit to a neurologist (4/2012) was prompted by numbness in my feet that I had had for about a year, which I had thought was related to ski boots that had been too tight - My dermatologist told me to get to a neurologist because I am on medicine (enbrel) that could have a side effect of MS.

-Lumbar MRI ruled out lower back issues causing numbness in my feet.

-MS was ruled out by brain/cervical/thoracic MRI ("there are no signal abnormalities identified to suggest a demyelinating process such as MS, myelitis, myelomalacia or a cervical cord syrinx at any level. There is slight prominence of the central canal of the spinal cord... The cervicomedullary junction is normal. The cerebellar tonsils are in normal position.").

-BUT I was told by the Neurologist that I have pressure on my spinal cord and that it was not a matter of if, but when I would have to have surgery - he said it was like "a ticking time bomb" and it was likely an incidental finding not related to my feet. Also, if I ever have loss of bladder/bowel, I am to get myself to the emergency room ASAP. He referred me for a Neurosurgeon consult…

I saw the head of neurosurgery & spinal trauma surgery at John C Lincoln hospital (Neurosurgeon) in Phoenix (and I really like him) to whom I was referred by the Neurologist.
- fellowship & residency: Barrow Neuro institute/St Joe's med center - orthopedic surgery of the spine and neurological Surgery
- he recommends ACDF on C5-C6 and told me to stop going to the gym and restrict my lifestyle (no eliptical, etc) activities, not lifting things, no running, be careful etc.
-on a scale of 1-10, I am a 7-8 in terms of severity
-sooner is better than later as something could happen or the issue could progress to a point where damage is not reversible with surgery (eg loss of bladder/bowel) which scares the heck out of me!

At the urging of my mother, I went for a second opinion – Saw the head of Neurosurgery at Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, AZ. To my great surprise, he said he believed that I do not need surgery as I am “asymptomatic”. He said many people walk around all the time with Cervical Spinal stenosis, it’s very common, but since I am not in pain, there is no reason for surgery. He had the MRIs, EMG & bloodwork and the notes from my Neurologist visits. The numbness in my feet is not related to my neck but was likely a result of occluded blood flow to some of the nerves in my feet by tightened ski boots that caused some nerve damage. He would NOT put me on any activity restrictions and that I should be able to go to the gym etc. He would NOT characterize me as a ticking time bomb, nor do I have a ruptured disc. According to him, there are no exercises or anything else I can do to mitigate the progression and at some point if warranted, I might need surgery, just not at this point. When asked why such a different opinion from the other Neurosurgeon, he said it’s a different approach and he respectfully disagrees… Mayo is much more conservative when it comes to surgery (as in don’t operate if not necessary I guess) and doesn’t believe that the risk is great enough of something happening from daily activities that would warrant a ‘preventive’ approach.

SO, went back to my neurologist Firday… he had the notes from the Mayo dr. and he completely disagrees with the Mayo (2nd opinion) Neurosurgeon’s opinion and proceeded to explain that
-Since pressure is on the front of the spinal cord, I will have no pain, but that it doesn’t mean there’s not a problem
-The symptoms that I currently have are hyperreflexia (?) and weakness in my upper body muscles associated with c5-6 cord compression
-He said it was “not a matter of if but when” I would have to have surgery. When I asked about ‘when is ‘when’’, he responded “yesterday”
-I further inquired about knowing how much compression there is or what % loss in strength that I was looking for some quantitative data (such as the mm compression figures I’ve seen on some of the other MRI postings etc), he said there’s no way of knowing or measuring that and it doesn’t even matter because I have symptoms and an MRI with cord compression – basically it sounds like he views it as very black and white – any symptoms of cord compression require surgery regardless whether there is pain or not.
-Asked about getting a myelogram to get an understanding of the degree compression and again he said it won’t matter what the myelogram would say because the fact that I have these symptoms means that surgery is needed
-Surgery will allow me to resume normal activities and I might regain the arm strength I’ve lost, but all surgery carries risk blablahblah.

For those interested here are the Cervical MRI results:
c4-c5: there is degenerative spondylosis with posterior disc-osteophyte complex effacing the ventral thecal sac without cord compression or central canal spinal stenosis. There is moderate bilateral neural foraminal stenosis due to bilateral uncovertebral spurring and facet hypertrophy.

c5-c6: there is a small right paracentral disc protrusion superimposed on posterior disc-osteophyte complex effacing the ventral thecal sac and resulting in moderate right-sided cord impingement and moderate central canal spinal stenosis. There is moderate left and marked right-sided neural foraminal stenosis due to asymmetric right sided uncovertebral spurring and facet hypertrophy

c6-c7: there is posterior disc-osteophyte complex eccentric to the left side effacing the ventral thecal sac and combining with the posterior ligamentum flavum thickening to result in mild central canal spinal stenosis. There is mild right and moderate left sided neural foraminal stenosis due to asymmetric left-sided uncovertebral spurring and facet hypertrophy.

Many thanks in advance for your thoughts!
hm, maybe that is why the Neurologist is so adamant about me having surgery - the 'alarm bells'. I'm wondering in your view what it is about the MRI report that *doesn't* support immediate surgery. Something missing that you'd expect to see that's not there? One thing I had not posted on the radiologist's report under the 'impressions' section that basically reiterates the previous stuff says 'slight prominence of the central canal of the spinal cord is likely an incidental finding in this patient. A six month followup 3T MRI of the cervical spine could be performed to confirm the stability of this finding"

The 1st Neurosurgeon counseled surgery 'sooner rather than later' but didn't seem concerned when I mentioned the sep-oct time frame. He framed it as more of a preventative "you're young and active and living in a 'bubble' right now, so the surgery is a way to get you out of the bubble and back to normal daily life activities"... I'm 44, by the way - relatively active, I guess, started a workout program 3x week last september - 15mins on eliptical and 30 mins of weights - which he told me to completely stop. and I have. Now I'm too paranoid to be active....

Mayo Neurosurgeon said I don't need surgery at all, right now, and don't have to restrict any of my physical activities and could go do things like ride on a jetski... but with no pain and 'asymptomatic' = no surgery.

One other thing I just remembered... First Neurosurgeon said I had a herniated disk that was torn and leaking (? I think that was what he said), whereas the the Mayo Neurosurgeon said my disc was NOT torn and not herniated, no 'leaking' and was typical slowly progressing DDD. When I asked how a different Neurosurgeon saw a torn disc and how he didn't see that, he said he respectfully disagrees with the other Neurosurgeon and that it's a matter of interpretation of the MRI image.

Weird. So now my mission is to determine if I really am asymptomatic, I suppose. I have a Barrows Neurosurgeon appt for July 9 and a Mayo Neurologist appt for July 31. if I can get another Neurologist appt earlier, I will do that, too.

I will keep you posted. If anyone has suggestions of questions to ask of the Docs on my next visit, I would appreciate it.

My list of questions so far is -
1. what is my level of hyperreflexivity, in which nerves and on what sides? is it symmetrical or not? what cervical discs does that correlate to?
2. what is my level of muscle weakness and in which muscles on what sides? what cervical discs does that correlate to?
3. what is the amount of compression on my spinal cord? what is the diameter in mm?
4. could gravity account for spinal cord impingement from when I was lying down during the MRI?
<< Something missing that you'd expect to see that's not there? >>

The word "severe" for one thing. "Indent" is another one.

<< it's a matter of interpretation of the MRI image. >>

Unfortunately true. The radiologist didn't seem to think there was a herniation, either, or at least he didn't explicitly say so.

As for your questions:

<< 1. what is my level of hyperreflexivity, in which nerves and on what sides? is it symmetrical or not? what cervical discs does that correlate to? >>

Not sure how important that is. I would ask if he thinks it's evidence of cord damage, or if it might be something else.

<< 3. what is the amount of compression on my spinal cord? what is the diameter in mm? >>

Or, more important, could a seemingly minor impingement on the cord still cause damage, and still require surgery?

<< 4. could gravity account for spinal cord impingement from when I was lying down during the MRI? >>

I think the answer to that is no, but it's theoretically possible, I suppose.

I would add another question... If the disk needs to be removed, how will the surgery address the facet and uncovertebral hypertrophy?

Am I correct in thinking, though, that if you hadn't had the original foot problem you never would have even had an MRI? If so, I'm kinda on the side of the Mayo guy. My opinion in this kind of thing should carry no weight, of course. I'm just saying.

You know, another thing you might try (probably easier and cheaper than seeing a neurowhatever). Send your images to a different radiologist and get his reading. I've never heard of this being done, but you seem the enterprising sort...

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