Rapidly Reversing Chronic Neck and Arm Pain: An excerpt from “Solving the Mystery”

February 16, 2011

In my book “Solving the Mystery: The Key to Rapid Recoveries from Most Back and Neck Pain”, I included the stories of two individuals, one with disabling neck pain and the other disabling back pain, both persisting for more than two years despite actively seeking care.

I was present when Peter was first examined for his chronic neck and arm pain.  It was a demonstration to attendees at an international spine conference of how the MDT evaluation identifies rapidly reversible conditions and then guides rapid recoveries.  References to “Figures” below pertain to illustrations in the book.

PETER’S HISTORY
Peter is a 38 year-old adventure guide and instructor who was on his honeymoon when the car he was driving was hit from behind while stopped. He passed out at the scene and was taken by ambulance to the hospital where no severe injuries were identified. He was discharged, given Tylenol, and told to see his doctor when he returned home.

Severe headaches soon started that kept him from sleeping at night as well as pain and numbness progressing down his left arm to his hand. His physician at home sent him to physical therapy that he continued for 18 months.

His pain forced him to stop working because he couldn’t rotate his head when kayaking nor look upward when leading rock-climbing groups.

A neck MRI showed bulging/prolapsed discs at his C5-6 and C6-7 levels that were pressing against his nerve causing the pain and tingling in his left arm.

He was referred to a neurosurgeon who offered him surgery to relieve the pressure on the nerve.  He was told there was a 50% chance of improvement, 40% chance of being the same, and a 10% chance of worsening as a result of the surgery. Because he didn’t like those odds, he decided against surgery.

PETER’S MDT EXAMINATION
He was finally given the opportunity to be examined by a physical therapist with extensive training in Mechanical Diagnosis & Therapy (MDT). At that time, he reported he had improved only 10% over his 18 months of physical therapy. He had pain, numbness and tingling into his left palm and fingers as well as tension and tightness in his neck and aching in his left arm. He did report some improvement in those symptoms four months earlier when he changed his job and stopped climbing and kayaking.

Attempts to bend his neck in any direction seemed to increase his neck and arm pain, including bending his head and neck backward. But a special variation of neck extension (bending the neck backward) noticeably decreased the arm and hand tingling that then didn’t return, which he stated was a “huge difference” from his last 18 months. With more neck extension movements, his hand and arm symptoms improved substantially and remained better, which greatly impressed Peter.

PETER’S MDT EDUCATION AND SELF-CARE INSTRUCTIONS
The therapist told Peter that something was pressing on the nerve and they were perhaps learning that that “something” might be able to be withdrawn from the nerve so his pain and tingling would go away.

He was instructed to perform 10-12 repetitions of the cervical extension exercises 5-6 times/day.  He was shown how to perform them standing, sitting and lying down. He was shown how his forward head position when sitting aggravated his condition and was given a lumbar roll to use behind his lower back, especially in the car, to enable him to sit more erectly with his head positioned much better to keep from aggravating his condition while sitting (Fig. 22.6).

FOLLOW-UP
Using this self-care strategy, the tingling in his arm and hand disappeared almost immediately despite having been present for 18 months.  His headache, neck and arm pain progressively decreased over the next four weeks to where he no longer had any pain. He reported three months later that he was pain-free as long as he did his exercises. He admitted to only doing them 1-2 times per day and if he stopped those exercises for more than two days, his headaches would return very slightly which reminded him to return to his exercises.

He was able to return to all of his work and had even taken up snowboarding as a new sport that he could now include in his work.

SUMMARY
In hindsight, Peter had an undiscovered rapidly reversible problem all this time. Like so many with motor vehicle whiplash injuries, his neck and arm pain didn’t begin until many days after his accident. He then underwent 18 months of useless physical therapy and almost accepted an unnecessary surgical procedure because neither he nor his physicians knew his underlying problem was actually rapidly reversible all this time. Fortunately, Peter finally found someone trained to evaluate and treat him using MDT principles of care.

Peter Is Not An Unusual Patient! There are published data indicating that half of chronic back and neck pain patients respond similarly. While not unusual, sudden and rapid recoveries like this are not widely known, which is why I have written my books and created this blog.  Unfortunately, and most importantly, such dramatic recoveries are also unfamiliar to most health care providers, payers and policy makers who do not provide their back and neck patients with this Mechanical Diagnosis & Therapy (MDT) form of evaluation.

From a cost perspective, every one of these patients who have an undiagnosed rapidly reversible condition costs tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars in direct medical costs and lost productivity,……..all unnecessarily! It only requires a thorough MDT evaluation at the outset of their care to identify them early and guide their rapid recovery to avoid nearly all of that unnecessary expense.

Peter’s actual initial MDT evaluation at this conference can be viewed on DVD available at http://www.optp.com/A-Day-with-McKenzie-DVD_914DVD.aspx. The therapist on the DVD who assessed Peter is Robin McKenzie himself, who developed the MDT method of care.

Dr. Ron

Ronald Donelson, MD, MS
President

SelfCare First, LLC
Blog: blog.selfcarefirst.com

 

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