T Nation

3 Herniations in Cervical Spine



I would really appreciate some insight from BBB and others on an issue a dear friend is going through.

A female friend of mine was diagnosed with C4-C5, C5-C6 and C6-C7 herniations this summer. She had no symptoms up until the 15th of August this year when she began experiencing severe pain in her right arm, neck and back when doing any movement with her head. She went to see the doctor and the MRI showed these herniations.

Since then she took all kinds of physical therapies, involving tractions, electricity, ultrasound, laser, but none of that helped relieve the symptoms. She was prescribed painkillers because the pain is almost unbearable and she can't function normally without them. She went to see three specialists.

Two of them recommend immediate surgery and the third is strongly against it saying she should do corrective exercises to fix this issue without surgery. I forgot to mention she is from Croatia. She never played any sports but is thin and in shape.

I remember reading a thread where BBB was explaining how cervical herniations are much harder to deal with than lumbar ones where you have many workarounds.

My questions are :

  1. How to approach this one in general, where to start ?

  2. What's your opinion on surgery ?

  3. Would a proper training program to strengthen her back and neck area be enough to alleviate the symptoms since it's a pretty hard condition she's having ?

  4. How to approach her diet ? Right now she eats a pretty unbalanced diet with mostly fruit and some junk food. First thing that comes to my mind is upping her protein and start supplementing with Glucosamine.

Also, where to find a good specialist who could work with her and make some progress ? Everyone she's been to mostly failed to make any noticeable improvements in her condition.

Thanks in advance for any help,

She is really going through the hardest time of her life :frowning:

Kind regards from Croatia,



Dobro dan,

So how did she get these herniations? An accident?
How old is she? What does she do for work?



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Thank you for your answers guys !

She is 31 years old. She works in a bank, so a desk job, and she doesn't do any sports except some recreational running. Her condition wasn't triggered by an accident. She had absolutely no symptoms up until the 15th of August and then it all went downhill. The doctors were surprised she was able to function normally with her spine in such a bad condition. I forgot to mention she was also diagnosed with cervical arthritis. Is it genetic, we don't know...

BBB, would posting her medical records here be ok with you, to give you a better perspective of the condition ?

Also, a hypotethical question, let's say if she were to come to the UK, in your opinion, how much could her condition "improve" after working with you ? I mean, what bothers her the most right now is that she can't function normally without painkillers and getting a pain free life is her top priority. In 4 months of therapies she did here in Croatia (in various institutions) there was zero progress.



Where is the arm pain? Down to the hands? If so fingers, which ones? Any issues with her lower extremites, i.e. weakness, numbness, spasms/spasticity? Bowel/bladder incontinence?

A simple disc bulge can be a 'herniation'. A disc extrusion can be a 'herniation'. Does the MRI demonstrate any canal stenosis, cord compression, neuroforaminal narrowing?



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My friend said to thank you guys very very much for your interest in her problem.

I'm back with some more details and answers to your questions.

Where is the arm pain? Down to the hands? If so fingers, which ones? Any issues with her lower extremites, i.e. weakness, numbness, spasms/spasticity? Bowel/bladder incontinence?

The pain is in the right arm (the left is completely ok) and it's only a slight pain. What she feels in her right arm is severe weakness and a burning sensation. She also has no pain in her fingers. No issues with lower extremities, bladder or bowel.

A simple disc bulge can be a 'herniation'. A disc extrusion can be a 'herniation'. Does the MRI demonstrate any canal stenosis, cord compression, neuroforaminal narrowing?

She is having another MRI next week so we will have some fresh data. I told her to give me her last MRI and I hope I'll be able to post it here tommorow. The surgeons say she has 1 disc extrusion and 2 protrusions. The C5-C6 disc is pressing on the spinal cord. She has spinal narrowing there.

As for the cause of her condition, the first time she felt something was wrong was a year ago. She felt pain while whenever she tried to turn her head but it only lasted a few days and she thought it was because she slept in a wrong position. Couple of months after that she had severe pain in her right arm but that also went away after few days.

The surgeons she's been to suspect that this could be genetic, although no one in her family ever had similar problems.

I think it's worth mentioning she had a very hectic lifestyle for the last ten years and ate as poor as one can possibly eat. She worked long hours and simultaneously attended college, slept maybe 3-4 hours a night, and ate like a bird, with minimal amounts of protein. Also, for the past 5 years she slept on a hard surface, without a pillow and on her belly. She can't do that anymore because it hurts too much. The only position she can sleep in now is on her back. Could that be one of the causes ?

Most surgeons she's been to recommend tractions but one is terrified by that idea saying it is too aggressive for her condition and will do more harm.

BBB, her coming to England seems like a good idea to me. She invested alot of time and resources into doctors and clinics here in Croatia with no improvement at all. I've been reading these forums for couple of years now and I got the impression you're really good in what you do, so when she told me about her condition, I immediately remembered you.

I haven't talked to her about coming to England yet, but I plan to after you see her medical reports and have enough info to give a rough estimate is that even the proper way to go. I agree that it's very strange for someone her age to suffer from such a condition. Can it be genetic if there were no similar cases in her family history ? Or is it possible that her lifestyle was the cause ?

She speaks fluent English.

I'll get that MRI here as soon as possible.

Big thanks again,


Edit: She just told me some more details. When it all started, 15th of August this year, she didn't go to the doctor straight away. She was at a friends house babysitting the friends' baby, which weighed 30lbs. She carried him around and played with him for the next 5 days although she was in unbearable pain (she thought it was the flu).


How far down the arm is the pain? upper arm, forearm, anterior, posterior, lateral, i.e. does it fit a dermatome? If there is cord compression, is there signal change in the cord on the MRI?



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Me too. I posted about a year ago with similar issues and had pinched nerves in C6-7 and C7-8 so bad I couldn't hold a cup of coffee. And had agonizing shooting pains down the arms (especially the left). I was also having balance issues too (which are very common in cervical problems). Forget getting a good night's sleep. An MRI showed definite narrowing of the cervical spine openings (for the nerves) as well as arthritic changes all along it. I went through PT and was told that surgery was my best option. I posted here and BBB told me to give it some time, but had not much upbeat to say.

I decided to fix another the issue instead, and fixed this one, albeit accidentally.

Let me explain. The problem it turned out, was a glute/hip dysfunction. Since I sort of knew there was an issue there, I decided to get some very good coaching. The thinking was it would help with some nagging lower back pain as well. Since the hip was never in the right position, postural changes up the spine were the culprit.

--> In other words, the pain in the neck was not the problem, it was a symptom of a postural issue <--

This much like the novice weightlifter who squats, gets knee pain and starts moaning about "bad knees" rather than focusing on proper form so the forces in the lift go to the right places.

Bad anterior pelvic tilt (APT) caused my issue, along with thoracic immobility, In essence the cervical spine was trying to compensate for all of this and as an anatomical structure it is far too weak to be pitted against the hips. I sit a lot (researcher) as does your friend. If your friend has had no traumatic injury, my problem might be the case too. I am now pain free (that took two months or so of work) and am back to respectable deads and squats now. Pain free. I am serious.

I am not a medical doctor. I will share my experience with you though. I have no idea if you can find someone who can help her. She must learn to do everything with neutral spine. I would urge her to at least try to find someone though since at the very least she can expect some improvement.

Start here: http://www.inside-out-warm-up.com/

Best of Luck,

-- jj


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I apologize for my two weeks long absence. My friend left the CDs with her MRI results in her parents' house which is in another town so it took some time for me to get a hold of them.

The CD with her MRI results from August has 200 pictures. The picture above is one of them and
I uploaded the entire CD (it has around 45MB) on the link below the picture, so you guys can browse through all of them.



Nice to see there are MRI results: my son was recently diagnosed with C-6 C-7 bulging disc, after the MRI it was found he had a syrinx (and therefore syringomyelia) associated with Arnold-Chiari malformation, rare but treatable. We were all convinced it was a disc problem until the MRI.


@Boffin, sorry to hear about your son :confused:

@BBB and others: Any opinions on the MRI results ? How treatable is her condition ?


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Tread lightly here. I have serious issues C1 thru C7 as well as T12. I opted out of any surgical procedures. However one wrong freakin move and lights out Geo! Consult sports medicine Docs as well as an Ortho guy. Err to the side of caution my friend. Good Luck.


She wasn't told to tilt her head forward. The doctors noticed this loss of cervical lordosis too and concluded it was either inborn or became so slowly over the years. They said it wasn't due to her issues.


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I also got the impression that her doctors are a bit sketchy regarding evaluating her condition. Each one of them has a different diagnosis, reads the MRI differently, and they give conflicting advice about future course of action.

Now that you've seen the MRI, have better insight in the symptoms and have drawn some conclusions, what is your opinion on this ? Should she take the surgery or not, what can be done and can strength training help in relieving the pain ? Most doctors are now pressuring her into operation, the therapies she's going through still don't help and she's even considering some out of the box stuff like Atlas correction (I never bothered to investigate more into what this is and I don't know what's your opinion on it).




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