My Personal Bout with Acute Neck Pain: Recovery ~ Part 2 of 3
As a physical therapist specializing in treatment of the spine, I had a great deal of experience with the physicians at Bridger Orthopedic & Sports Medicine. This seemed like a good place to seek advice and help for my agonizing condition. I called Christine, a patient care coordinator at Bridger, and she was kind enough to get a same day appointment for me with Dr. Speth and Bryce Wiley, PA-C. They performed a very thorough evaluation and determined that I most likely had a cervical radiculopathy. I was in for a cervical MRI the next day and Bryce called to inform me that the imaging revealed a left C5/C6 disc bulge with compression on the C6 nerve root. There was also some cervical arthritis present in the mid to low neck.
Again, the patient care coordinators (Christine & Shane) quickly scheduled me for a cervical steroid injection with Dr. Slocum at the surgery center, just below Bridger Orthopedics & Sports Medicine. Dr. Slocum was kind enough to come downstairs between seeing patients and perform a transforaminal steroid injection in the neck. During the procedure, I took the opportunity to dissect what was going on. Some of my patients go through spinal injections and they will often ask me if it is painful. Now I was about to find out. I’m sure the experience is different for all people, but my procedural pain was considerable, though quite brief. Dr. Slocum injected around C6 on the left and for about 5 to 6 seconds I felt all of the pain that I had experienced over the last week and a half condensed into my neck, shoulder blade, and arm. Within a few minutes there was some relief. Dr. Slocum explained that the injection could take 1 to 2 weeks for the full positive effect, but I would experience an initial decrease in pain within the first day, which might not last.
The next morning I woke up and felt 90% better. I could move my neck, lie down comfortably on my back, and work on patients without concentrating on my own pain. Slowly, by the next day this reduction in pain slid backwards to about 50% better. I had a problem. Two days later, I was to be on a flight to Chicago for a much anticipated PT continuing education course. Bryce prescribed me another round of oral steroids and more hydrocodone for pain relief. I made it to Chicago, wearing a soft cervical collar on the airplane to support my neck.
I arrived at my continuing education course tired, now only 40% better, and unable to sit during the presentation. I was truly blessed to be traveling with Jason Lunden, one of our sports specialist PTs from Excel PT, and sitting next to another experienced PT named Effie. During the first break she looked at me and asked if I was OK. She got the full story. Effie said “I can help you.” I immediately explained how serious this problem was and that I probably was not appropriate for hands-on PT treatment. She assured me that her specialty was in spine. Sounds familiar. Effie performed left sided cervical and upper thoracic joint mobilizations, soft tissue techniques to the shoulder blade and shoulder muscles, and traction to the neck. These techniques were more aggressive than I would have chosen for my patients, but I was willing to try anything and I trusted her. After 10 minutes of treatment, my pain was reduced greatly and I practically fell asleep on the table.
Effie treated my neck again on the following 2 days of class and, by the time I returned home to Bozeman, the symptoms were improved to 75% of normal. I continued under the care of Megan Peach, at Excel PT, and I reached 95% improvement over the next month with physical therapy treatments 2x/weeks. The remaining 5% of symptom reduction and full strength in the left arm took 2 to 3 more months of performing my exercises independently.