My Personal Bout with Acute Neck Pain: The Onset ~ Part 1 of 3
Evaluating and treating individuals with neck pain has been my specialty over the past 15 years. I have literally treated over a thousand people suffering from this affliction. Recently, neck pain became a much more personal issue, as I experienced the sort of agony which some of my patients deal with. For the past 20 years, my neck has been intermittently stiff, with the occasional inability to turn my head for a day or two and what felt like an acute muscle spam, but there has been nothing of serious concern. This was different. While still in bed, I opened my eyes in the morning and noticed neck stiffness when turning over. Could this be one of those mornings where there would be trouble turning my head? Better to get up slowly. I sat up and immediately felt a rush of nauseating pain sweeping into my low neck and then shooting into my left shoulder blade. I don’t have time for this I thought. Into the shower for some hot water on the neck and down the hatch with 600mg of Ibuprofen. I drove to work applying traction to my neck with both hands and steering with my elbows and knees. A smarter man would have just stayed at home and called in sick. But I had patients that depended on me.
Luckily, this was my short day of the week at work. My neck pain steadily grew worse and by 2PM I was stuck with my head down and turned to the right, avoiding the worst ache. I utilized a home traction unit from work and had to go very slowly and gently not to aggravate my symptoms. That night, I managed about 2 hours of sleep, constantly readjusting to avoid pain.
The next morning, I called a physician friend of mine and he prescribed me a round of oral steroids. After 3 days, my neck pain slowly started to improve and within 1 week I was 75% better and training on my road bike for short periods. Unfortunately, this progress did not last.
8 days after the initial onset, my symptoms suddenly returned in the morning and were even worse. At this point I had to be honest with myself about the serious nature of my neck problem. My symptoms included weakness in the left arm, severe pain behind the left shoulder and into the shoulder blade, severe neck pain, numbness in the left hand, and I could not extend my neck or turn to the right. This was a very familiar presentation, a cervical radiculopathy. It had to be a disc bulge in my low neck that was inflaming and compressing one of the spinal nerves. Megan Peach, DPT, here at Excel PT did a great job at treating my acute problem, but my presentation was too severe to benefit from PT at that time. I decided to make an appointment with a local orthopedic specialty physician.