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Slipped Disc??

Was wondering if anyone ever experienced the symptoms of a slipped disc in their neck (as in neck pain and nerve discomfort around the area and arm pain and numbness)… But it actually turned out to be a symptom of MS??? Atm Im off work approx 4 weeks with a suspected slipped disc in my neck. Just waiting on MRI results to confirm. However, I am also under the care of neuro for possible MS symptoms and at the ‘watch & wait stage’(1 year 1/2 since inital symptoms started) I just find it all too coincidental tbh particularly becos the possible slipped disc is on the right side were I also experience most of my other symptoms. I shall be seeing the ortho and neuro docs soon. Any info and advice is appreciated. Thanks :slight_smile:

Hi,

I do not want to scare you, but yes, I was initially investigated for a suspected slipped disc. Which I did find rather odd at the time, as most people I knew who’d had one reported it was absolutely excruciating, and most had a pretty good idea how/when it happened, too. Neither of those was true for me. So I was a bit puzzled how I could have done it without it hurting, or without me noticing, or even any suspect activities - e.g. decorating or heavy lifting the week before.

Unsurprisingly, the symptoms of MS can be very similar to those of a slipped disc, because an MS lesion in the spinal cord will disrupt signals up and down it in much the same way as a mechanical impingement, such as a slipped disc.

A key difference is that with a slipped disc, you would only get symptoms below the level of the damaged disc. So if it was in your neck, you could have problems anywhere from the neck down, but not in your face or eyes, for example. Whereas, with MS, given that there can be multiple sites of damage, in the brain and/or spinal cord, potentially anywhere could be affected. There is not a single point of damage, so that it can be stated with certainty where it could and couldn’t cause problems.

When I had my MRI, it showed nothing mechanical that could be causing the problem, but a very astute neurosurgeon was just about to discharge me, saying there was nothing to see, when he took one more look at the pictures, and said, rather ominously: “Wait! I want to know what that is!” “That” was an incredibly subtle, slightly misty area on the scan - within the spinal cord. The spinal cord itself is no broader than your thumb, so I would say the “misty” bit was no wider than a piece of dental floss, and much less clearly delineated. He must have been very eagle-eyed to spot it, especially as he was looking for something much less subtle, like a bone out of place.

He said: “If you don’t mind, I’d like a second opinion; I’m going to refer you to a colleague of mine.”

The colleague, it turned out, was an MS specialist, so I believe to this day the neurosurgeon knew what he’d seen, but it wasn’t his field, so not his place to discuss the implications with me. All he could do was pass me to someone whose job it was.

Tina

Thanks for replying, very useful info. It is possible that I do have one or two slipped discs as I got an MRI last Sep under neuro to investigate the cause of my symptoms. The MRI actually showed prolapsed c4/c5 although my neuro stressed that it would NOT cause my symptoms as there was no pressing on the spinal cord etc and to watch/wait/observe the symptoms. So ortho suspects that it may have moved more causing the nerve discomfort and pain in my neck & arm and taking into consideration my field of work also. So I got an MRI of neck last week. (Heavy lifting etc)…but I still feel its all a huge coincidence and feel that all may come to a head in the next few weeks. Do you find your joints and muscles not are as strong since diagnosis due to MS? Thanks :slight_smile:

Hi again,

Well, hindsight’s a wonderful thing, as they say. With hindsight, I feel I’d been losing muscular strength and feeling generally unwell for quite a few years prior to diagnosis, and not just since. Obviously, with diagnosis you immediately become more aware of it, but I think it had been going on for a while - it was just easier to dismiss as the effects of age (I was in my 40s), or stress, or whatever.

In fact, I’d had contact with the medical establishment a few years prior to the suspected slipped disc, about unexplained pain in my legs, which was at one point thought to be some form of inflammatory arthritis. But after tests failed to find anything, I was eventually discharged with a diagnosis of simple wear and tear (“unfortunate, at your age, but it does happen”), and advised to rest and take ibuprofen.

This was both sad, in one way - Why were problems of old age starting so early? - but also reassuring, as I felt that if it was anything more sinister, they would have found it, and not just said: “Shame, but that’s life!”

So scroll on four or five years, during which I dismiss any further problems as the previously diagnosed “wear and tear”, before I have the supposed “slipped disc” incident - which neither I nor my GP connect with the earlier aches and pains at all.

The thing is, a problem in the spinal cord is quite likely to cause weakness below the site of the problem, whether it’s purely mechanical, or due to a disease process like MS. So you can’t really deduce much from the symptoms alone - a spinal cord problem is still a spinal cord problem, however it got there.

Neither MS nor one or more slipped discs pressing on the spinal cord attack joints or muscles directly. But if some muscular control is lost, due to impaired nerve transmission, then yes, the muscles themselves can become weak (and/or, paradoxically, too tight - spasticity) and this abnormal muscle-tone can in turn place more strain on joints and tendons. So yes, I do get joint pain, even though MS is not a disease of the joints. I assume my muscles are just not strong enough to do their job properly, and this is causing other problems, as the joints try to compensate. :frowning:

Tina

So Im guessing your inital MS symptom was neck pain?? & leg pain? . Thanks for the info regarding joint and muscle pain and problems. The reason why I asked that question was because in the last two years alone I have had bursitus (sp) in my left hip and got a steroid injection. It worked wonders.I’ve also had inflammtion and irritatin of my AC joint and rotator cuff of my right shoulder…and now this possible slipped disc. So having those had me thinking does MS weaken joints and muscles. Im only 25 so having these wear and tear injuries already is quite daunting. Curiosity kills the cat as they say lol. I hope you are keeping Ok.

Hi,

No, I’ve never had neck pain whatsoever. I wouldn’t even say pain was a major feature of my early symptoms. I definitely did get more tired and pop more painkillers than most people my age, but the symptoms were subtle, not dramatic. I’d had painful legs and feet for years (depressing but not excruciating), and got a few “pulled muscles” which were out of keeping with the amount of physical exercise I was engaged in - I’ve never been a sporty person, and had a desk job, yet somehow managed to pull a hamstring AND an achilles tendon. At the time just ranked as “bad luck”, and not that there was anything making me particularly injury prone.

I don’t, or didn’t, have any lesions in my neck (might do by now, but post-diagnosis, you are not routinely scanned to see how many more there are).

The one that was found, that eventually led to my diagnosis, was at about breastbone level - which is unusually low, in MS terms. The neck is usually regarded as a more probable site, which is why it’s more often scanned for evidence.

The symptom that finally got me into the right department (Neurology, not Rheumatology) was waking up one morning with completely numb feet. Very little associated pain - in fact, I later realised less than usual, because the pain circuits were down too! For the first time in years, my feet didn’t hurt. In reality, they were presumably still telling my brain they were hurting, but my brain never got the message, because the cable was damaged! Lower body numbness can be associated with a slipped disc, so that was when they scanned for a look.

I didn’t go along even suspecting MS as a possibility, although, for a long time, I’d begun to suspect I might be ill with something - but thought it was far more likely to be a Rheumatology-type thing. A problem with my brain didn’t even enter my head (excuse the pun).

When I was finally diagnosed, though, it did all make sense. I thought: “That is why I’ve been feeling cr*p for years, and having all those silly injuries.”

I knew intuitively it was true, as it made a lot more sense than “wear and tear”.

Tina

Awk Tina. It sounds like you have had your fair share of being pushed pillar to post. You must be somewhat relieved to know what was actually causing your symptoms. I have the ortho consultant tomorrow for the results of my MRI. It may just be a case of needing a bit of physio (I keep telling myself that anyhow) lol. Thanks for all help and advice. RR25

Hi,

Good luck for tomorrow, though if you are expecting a somewhat tense and nerve-racking day, I expect you will already have gone to bed long ago.

I do hope that it may turn out to be purely mechanical. Sometimes that means surgery, which I admit is about as welcome as MS for most people, but could be construed as the lesser of two evils, as there would be the chance of a one-off fix.

MS is an extremely difficult diagnosis, so I don’t think my story is atypical, and, perhaps oddly, I don’t feel particularly badly done-by. It’s still a comparatively rare disease, after all, so when a patient goes to the doctor moaning that her feet/legs hurt, it won’t be high on the list of suspects.

I don’t regret not realising sooner what was wrong. In some ways, ignorance was bliss. I was lucky in that it seemed to follow a relatively benign course for years, so I’m not convinced it would have been to my advantage to have known about it all that time. I think I would have worried myself sick over every little symptom, instead of being able to dismiss them so lightly, so I don’t think my overall quality of life would have been better. I might have got more help with the aches and pains, instead of just learning to live with them, BUT I would have paid for that with peace of mind.

So I don’t really blame anyone, and I don’t think not knowing harmed me. I think I was diagnosed just at the time my rational explanations were starting to wear thin, and I was forced to admit there must be something wrong. So at the time that was right for me, in other words. If I’d been coping with it successfully for years, without realising the seriousness, I’m quite glad nobody came along to burst my bubble.

I suppose, with even RRMS being a progressive disease, as contradictory as that may sound, things would inevitably have reached the point I couldn’t keep telling myself this was normal, and that everybody else felt the same. Profound numbness of both feet was that moment. I was pretty sure that despite friends my own age almost all moaning about tiredness and aches and pains past 40, none of them had woken up with this!

So yes, in some ways, it was a relief - strange as that may seem. A relief I wasn’t mad, or a hypochondriac, getting down about perfectly normal ageing! I had good reason to feel fed up, and to have premonitions something was wrong!

Even if your MRI showed lesions, I doubt you would get a diagnosis on-the-spot tomorrow. Most people still have to play a game of watch-and-wait, to confirm it is definitely an ongoing thing, and not some freak one-off.

Even if you are diagnosed, just remember, you will NOT be a different person. You - and your health - will be the same as they were today. Only your state of knowledge will have changed.

Tina

The results of MRI are in…positive I suppose. The consultant said there is no major changes to the already prolapsed discs and the pain is caused due to irriation to the nerve roots etc but no compression evident. He thought there was compression at one point but looked again and said no it was actually fine. He isnt overly impressed by my reflexes, particulary in my wrists.He also said there is nothing ‘pathological’, no tumours or cancer and I think he said MS also. I was quite shocked to hear him talking about tumours & cancer as I assumed he was just scanning to see if discs had moved any more. So basically no treatment i.e surgery needed. Just rest and return to work when im ready with light duties. Hopefully my neuro will shed some light once and for all on my other symptoms. At this stage ill aceept any diagnosis. I just want an answer to it all now. Just got to plod along and ill get there eventually :slight_smile:

I thought of you today, and wondered how it had gone.

Oh well, no news is good news, I suppose. I had thought, from the way things were leaning, and the way you felt about it yourself, that you might have expected more of a smoking gun this time.

I don’t think mentioning tumours means they were particularly expecting to find any, but given your symptoms, they would be looking for anything that could compromise the spinal cord - whether it’s inflammation, mechanical impingement, or a cyst or tumour. Spinal cord tumours are pretty rare, but it would be something they wanted to exclude.

It seems generally positive - i.e. nothing really sinister found, but it’s a bit of a bummer still having symptoms and yet nothing damning on the pictures.

When I had the suspected slipped disc, I remember my GP saying it was very unlikely to be anything sinister. I’m still not sure if she was right or not. If, by sinister, she actually meant malignant, I suppose she was right in the sense there was no tumour for me either. But I’m a bit unpersuaded about MS not being anything sinister. In my darkest moments, I think it’s quite sinister - but probably not as much as having a tumour there.

Tina

Thanks for thinking of me Tina. Very thoughtful. Im glad my prolapsed discs haven’t moved any more as that would have require surgery. Im only 25 and if I had back surgery I may not be able to continue in my profession. I need to start taking care of my back I suppose… as i have loss of space in T11-T12 , seen on previous scans also. Id say with a bit of light physio the pain should ease off or my neck will adjust to the pain. More shall be revealed on 4th dec. Thanks again