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candrgonzalez (@candrgonzalez)

Cervical stenosis: Leg weakness

Spine Health | Last Active: Sep 6, 2019 | Replies (27)

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@candrgonzalez I have been where you are now with leg weakness caused by cervical stenosis. I had a ruptured disc and bone spurs compressing my spinal cord at C5C6 and as that got worse, the leg problems increased as well as pain all over my body. I also had muscle spasms that pulled my cervical vertebrae out of the correct lordotic curve, and that increased my leg symptoms and I walked with an uneven gait, like walking with a limp and you can't walk normally if you try. This was something that was missed by every spine surgeon who saw me before I came to Mayo, and none of them thought it was related, but they misunderstand my case and these symptoms. When my physical therapist would realign my spine, I could walk normally again, until the spasms returned which essentially squeezed the spinal cord into a smaller space by shifting the bones. I was also loosing muscle in my arms and shoulders and a lot in back that I didn't notice until I looked in a mirror after my therapist pointed it out. Since my surgery, I got some of that muscle back, but there is still a deficit from what used to be there.

I would caution you about epidural injections in your neck. Doctors like to do that to put off surgery, and the effects are temporary. There are some serious risks too if they inject the wrong place. I had an adverse reaction to an epidural that caused a new paraestheisa pain that sent stabbing electric shocks into my hand and fingers, and if I moved at all, the pain increased. All I could do was get in bed, prop my arm on a pillow and try not to move. It didn't start to improve until about 5 days later, and then I still got stabbing pains, just not as frequently and it took about 6 weeks to stop happening. I had cold sensitivity in that hand for a year and a half. You don't have to do them. I refused to do any more. The injection won't fix anything. You can decide if that is something you want to try or not. The only real fix for cervical stenosis is surgery. If this is affecting your balance, my advice would be to start getting opinions on surgery and get several. Evaluate the doctors as best you can by looking at their training, area of interest, and read their research papers and look at how others in the field regard them. Are they a leader who is teaching at a medical school or teaching lab courses for surgeons who are in practice? There are independent ratings and lists like Becker's Spine where they list 100 spine surgeons to know and that gets updated fairly often. You can find out about current research and studies and who is doing what and where. That isn't foolproof; some of the surgeons who saw me were on that list, but didn't get it right. Learn all you can about this so you will ask good questions when you are at an evaluation. You want to be in a position to make an informed decision when the time is right. It took me 2 years to find a surgeon willing to help me because none wanted to risk their reputation and statistics of their surgical success on me. It was suggested that I could have another problem like MS which wasn't true. I never expected to be dismissed over and over for an obvious problem.

Balance problems also come from misalignment of C1 & C2 and that happened to me. It caused vertigo and I fell over. That is probably what scared Surgeon #5 out of helping me, but it is a real symptom that goes with a cervical spine problem. Skull /spine misalignment can be serious if there is also some instability or slipping of one vertebrae over another. I had 2 mm of movement of this slipping at C5/C6, and maybe some at other levels. If there is instabililty between C1, the "atlas" and the skull, that needs an expert evaluation before anyone tries to treat it. I also have thoracic outlet syndrome that causes tight muscles in my neck and chest, and it starts twisting my vertebrae just a little bit, but that is enough to cause bad headaches and nausea or dizziness.

Track your symptoms on a body diagram, and draw where you have pain or other symptoms, what you were doing at the time (because it can be different when your spine changes position) and date. You will know how fast your symptoms are changing. I wish I had come to Mayo first because that is where I found the true expertise in a surgeon who understood my symptoms and was willing to help. I found medical literature about cases like mine, and contacted a surgeon at Mayo with that and described how my symptoms were similar. One of the predictors was the epidural shot I had that had taken all the pre-existing pain away temporarily and that was common with the patients in the literature. By the time I had surgery, I could bend my neck and send an electric shock down my body because of spinal cord compression.

I was lucky when I contacted Mayo. I got an appointment a month later due to a cancellation, but I had been told it might be a 3 month wait. I'd seen enough surgeons and knew enough by that time, so I knew that I was getting good answers to my questions, and I had very successful surgery at Mayo and I've had a great recovery. All of this can cause permanent damage to the spinal cord, and that happens to patients who wait too long. That being said, I understand the fear that goes with this, and you will need to trust the surgeon you choose with your life, so choose wisely. I think I'm lucky that none of the previous surgeons would help, because I had the best of the best at Mayo, and I had excellent results. I wasted a lot of time waiting weeks for appointments, then weeks to discuss with a doctor, then weeks for something else, and on it went for 6 months while I just got worse and after all that a denial for help. At Mayo they efficiently refer you to other specialists as a team approach and they get this testing done in a few days. I had an offer of surgical help at my first appointment with the Mayo surgeon as opposed to no answers after over 2 years somewhere else. I was able to get scheduled for surgery within a couple weeks of my evaluation at Mayo and I'm doing great.

Here are some links, the medical literature I spoke about and my patient story. Let me know if you have any questions. I would be happy to answer.
Excerpts from "Cervical cord compression presenting with sciatica-like leg pain" from the European Spine Journal
"Funicular leg pain is a rare presentation of cervical cord compression."

"Leg pain or sciatica is a rare ‘false localizing’ presentation of cervical cord compression and there has been only a few cases described in literature [1–5]. The term sciatica has often been associated with disorders of the lumbar spine and pelvis, and we often tend to overlook other parts of the spine in the search for its cause. We report two cases of cervical cord compression, which presented with sciatica-like leg pain. Each case is unique and different from one another in their presentation and concurrent spinal lesions. We hope that the discussion of these cases and the accompanying literature review will make us more aware of this uncommon presentation of leg pain in cervical cord compression."

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Replies to "@candrgonzalez I have been where you are now with leg weakness caused by cervical stenosis. I..."

Thank you so much for the information. I'm glad your doing well. After reading your information I realized that our symptoms are very similar. I have noticed some loss of muscle and I do get some pretty bad headaches. I also feel like I don't know how to walk. I have not told my Dr about my muscles because I really did not realized it until I read your note. Thank you so much. I'm going to call Mayo ASAP. I hope they take my insurance. Best wishes.