Inflamed discs in neck lead to shoulder pain – Chris’ story

bad back

A really bad back

The following is the story of how what I thought was a shoulder injury actually turned out to be inflamed discs in the upper part of my spine. I guess things are not always what they seem, especially where upper back problems are concerned…

My neck and shoulder pain issues started around May 5th. It was around this time that I started noticing pain and stiffness in my shoulder. For the previous few weeks I had re-adopted my old weight training regimen in hopes of adding on some muscle and maybe losing a little bit of weight. Unfortunately for me I let my exuberance get the better of me and ended up hurting myself.

For the first few weeks of my new workout routine I had been splitting up my sessions between each separate exercise, doing every set for each exercise before moving on to the next. My dad, who has been lifting for decades and has a vast library of literature on the subject, suggested I adopt the “circuit” method. He suggested that I do one set of each exercise in order, going back to the first after I had completed the first circuit, for a total of three sets of each exercise.

It worked wonders! I had increased my rep count for each set of each exercise by eight or sometimes ten repetitions. Needless to say after this much more difficult workout, I was completely whipped. I spent the rest of the day lazing about and trying to stuff as much protein into my face as I could find. Before I went to sleep that night I remembered the promise I made to my dad to help him with some yard work the next day.

Around 2pm the following day I was once again at my dad’s house ready to lend him a hand. The first order of business was mowing the lawn. While my dad’s yard isn’t terribly huge, it’s still pretty big and a bit of a daunting task, especially with how sore I was from the previous day’s workout. Foolishly, as it turns out, I pressed on anyway and set to work at my task. It was maybe during the second half of the yard that I started feeling some particular discomfort in my right shoulder. Chalking it up as nothing more than the same general ache that I was feeling in the rest of my body, I ignored it and continued mowing the lawn.

After I was done with the lawn, it was time to tackle the second and final task of the day, painting the deck. Little did I know that this would be the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back” for my neck, and send me running to the Dr. for some shoulder pain relief. The entirety of my painting mostly consisted of painting the thin, wooden posts that supported the top railing, many of which were situated in hard to reach places or over my head. I believe it was these posts that made me lift my right arm over my head that did me in.

For the next few days I was noticing some slight to moderate discomfort in my shoulder, most notable when I tried to place my right arm at any kind of extreme angle. This discomfort only became worrisome when one night the pain actually kept me from sleeping, resulting in me having to skip work the following day and go see a doctor. I arrived at the Next Care near my home later the next morning, only to be pointed to a neighboring location the next town over because their x-ray was down.

Upon arrival at the next location I was seen by the doctor rather quickly, a very pleasant early-middle aged woman who listened to my symptoms and conducted a few motion and flexibility tests with my right arm and shoulder to try and deduce my problem. She decided that a battery of x-rays was in order and I was ushered into the x-ray room. Here my shoulder was photographed from all angles, some of them being fairly painful! Upon initial review of my x-rays my doctor was puzzled as no damage to the bones or surrounding hard structures could be detected. She came to the conclusion that it must be soft tissue damage, and decided that an MRI and a prescription for Vicodin, a pain relief medication, was in order.

Less than a week later I was in considerable pain most of the time and sitting in the waiting room of the orthopedic specialist I was sent to. After maybe thirty or so minutes I was quite bored and reading a dated copy of “OK!” magazine when I heard my name called. I was led through the main office and into my small exam room. Here I was to wait almost another hour before the doctor finally strolled in. He was obviously a fairly young man, probably not long out of med school, and looked rather bored if memory serves.

He asked me what’s been bothering me and after a short description of my problem he proceeded to perform the most painful series of tests yet. He roughly jerked my arm back and forth, up and down, and in all directions in between to find the problem. After ordering a redundant barrage of more x-rays (I had the x-rays from the previous doctor’s visit with me on disk) he decided to inject me with a numbing agent and an anti-inflammatory medication. The needle was really rather large and the milky substance burned quite a bit as it was injected into my sore shoulder. After that was over he informed me that he was going to prescribe what basically amounted to 800mg tablets of ibuprofen and a few rounds of physical therapy, which interestingly enough was scheduled six weeks in the future. The whole time I never got, nor was scheduled for, the MRI I was originally sent to get.

Obviously very dissatisfied with my experience at that particular orthopedist, I went online and found a promising new practice just a short distance up the road. In another four painful days I was being seen by my new doctor. Immediately I could tell this man, maybe late thirties to early forties, was both more experienced, and cared much more about what he was doing. After hearing my story and doing a few rather interesting tests of his own, he came to the conclusion that it might not be a shoulder issue at all, but my neck. He proscribed me some very heavy anti-inflammatories and immediately scheduled me for an appointment at a local medical imaging facility. Before I knew it I was sitting in the waiting room, about to get my first MRI.

To say I was unprepared for what was about to happen is a vast understatement. When I entered the room that housed the MRI, the technician asked me rather sternly if I was at all claustrophobic. This struck me as somewhat alarming as I recalled the confirmation phone call I received for the appointment. During that phone call the nurse also asked me if I was at all claustrophobic. I replied to both inquirers that I thought I may be a little bit claustrophobic, but certainly not enough to warrant any kind of real concern. Oh how wrong I was!

As I lie down on the thin, flat table that was to feed me into the space-doughnut that was the MRI I could already feel myself starting to tense up. I passed this off as the perfectly understandable apprehension anybody would feel being eaten by a large mechanical pastry. However as I was strapped in and began being inserted into the MRI I could feel real panic setting in. It became almost unbearable when my head first entered the tube and I saw just how closed in I was. I immediately shut my eyes but was again panicked to the point of full blown episode when my shoulders had to squeeze together somewhat to fit my torso. I made it a full eighteen minutes before having to hit the panic button.

After calming down a bit, I was able to finish the last five or so minutes of my ordeal. Thoroughly shaken, I was led back to the waiting room where I was given some hot cocoa and congratulated on making it all the way through. The doctor on duty told me how only maybe three in a hundred people who admit to being claustrophobic can make it past five minutes without medication, so that made me feel slightly less embarrassed. After receiving my MRI images I left the building with great relief that it was all over.

When I once again arrived at the orthopedist he reviewed the MRI images. Sure enough he found that I had three inflamed discs in my spine at the base of my neck. Obviously I asked how a bulging discs in neck could result in such acute pain in my shoulder, and the doctor explained to me that pain in my shoulder were actually pinched nerve in neck symptoms.  He explained that this is called referred pain, and it happens a lot with back or spine injuries. I was also told that if I had worked my neck just a little bit more I could have been dealing with some serious complications and would have had to undergo herniated disc surgery. Obviously I was relieved that I had caught it in time and wouldn’t have to experience that unpleasantness.

As for the future he told me that I would be fine and that the anti-inflammatories had pretty much already done their job. I just had to continue taking it easy for another two or so weeks before I could start lifting again. Very pleased with the diagnosis I thanked my doctor and left. It’s been maybe two weeks since then and I’m still bothered by my right shoulder and neck, but it’s certainly getting better bit by bit, day by day. I consider myself lucky. I’ve seen plenty of friends and family really hurt their necks and backs, most of whom are still plagued by the symptoms to this day. It really shows how important it is to pay attention to what your body is telling you, and that neck and back injuries are no joke.

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