By Dr. Tim Maggs, © July 2000
Q: I was diagnosed with a herniated disc in my neck which caused "pinching" of my C7 nerve resulting in numbness of my thumb and first 2 fingers (along with a great deal of pain). I am being treated with Vicodin, Skelaxin and Prednisone. The doctor said my x-rays were normal, but he said we needed to do an MRI. My questions; Could this be from running? Could it be from stress or poor mattress/pillow? When can I begin running again? The doctor said he wanted me to learn some neck strengthening exercises, but didn't mention anything about my running.
I was diagnosed with a herniated disc in my neck that caused "pinching" of my C7 nerve resulting in numbness of my thumb and first 2 fingers.
This is not uncommon for someone to suffer with a herniated disc at this level. The symptoms described are quite common.
I am being treated with Vicodin, Skelaxin and Prednisone.
These drugs are certainly common and are designed to help reduce symptoms, such as inflammation, muscle tightness and pain. But, by no means, is a chemical treatment a cure for a physical problem.
The doctor said my x-rays were normal, but he said we needed to do an MRI.
Typically, if you suffer with a true herniated disc, your spinal biomechanics are abnormal, suggesting your spine is either imbalanced, locked at certain levels or twisted out of its normal position. Unfortunately, most doctors don't know how to read x-rays from a biomechanical perspective. First of all, you need your x-rays taken in a standing position. Secondly, the doctor must know how to interpret them from an athletic and biomechanical viewpoint. If the first comment is, "The x-rays are normal and you need an MRI", you must at least consider the fact that the doctor might not be capable of interpreting biomechanical information from your x-rays. X-rays show alignment, curvature and positioning of the spine, while an MRI will better highlight soft tissue problems as well as disc herniations.
Could this be from running?
Running, and the compression associated with it, could certainly be a contributor to the problem, but it is highly unlikely that running alone could cause such a problem. In most cases of herniated discs, joints will lock up due to a prolonged, ongoing stress to a certain area of the spine, thus producing increased demands on a specific disc. This demand will eventually produce a bulging and ultimate herniation of this disc. If, however, an underlying problem exists, running can certainly aggravate the problem and prevent the necessary healing process from taking place.
When can I begin running again?
This can only be answered by your treating doctor. If he or she isn't experienced in biomechanics, then you need to find someone who is. The release to allow you to resume running is one that must be done at the right time and only after corrective rehabilitation. Each and every person who has a problem such as yours needs to have specific guidance with regard to when running can be resumed.
The doctor said he wanted me to learn some neck strengthening exercises, but didn't mention anything about my running.
Your doctor is correct about neck strengthening exercises, but your return to running requires a very sophisticated effort for full return. Typically, most herniated discs in the neck are a result of restricted motion in the spine. This restriction can be in the low back, mid-back or neck. Once complete motion is restored in all joints of the spine, the likelihood of recovery in the injured area goes up. This is with or without surgery. If a surgeon feels surgery is not in your best interest, complete motion is still your objective in all joints of the spine. Proper exercises, which facilitate improved motion and muscular activity, improve the status of the neck and help to prevent future flare-ups. Proper neck exercises in a condition such as this are critical.
Whenever a structural problem presents itself, whether it be pain, spasm or limited range of motion, a thorough biomechanical exam is indicated. This can only be done by someone skilled in that area. The difficulty is finding someone who understands full biomechanics and how to help you get better with your condition. Once you find the right person, the objective for all of your body's imbalances, lockings, restrictions and abnormalities will be to work towards correction and balance. Once the body improves in motion and balance, everything begins to improve.
In the future, never let pain and restriction be your motivation for finding someone skilled in this area. Start today, as all of us will have some type of biomechanical problems at some point in the future. The body wears out with abnormal wear and tear, and once it's worn out, there's no hope for recovery. But, with a little foresight and preparation, longevity and health are certainly well within the grasps of all of us.