Thank you for all the texts and messages wishing me luck with the neurosurgeon visit yesterday. A lot of you have asked status and I haven’t shared with many as I am trying to wrap my head around it all.
What the hell is going on?
After a ton of tests and doctors visits, yesterday I received a prognosis from a neurosurgeon that came recommended by my Godparents, Dr. Abshire of Temecula Valley Neurosurgery. This is my second neurosurgeon opinion after countless MRI’s, nerve studies, chiropractic adjustments, acupuncture and cupping treatments, sports medicine and orthopedic surgeon visits, physical therapy and so on.
During my visit yesterday, Dr. Abshire recommended a level 2 Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF) on discs C4/5 – C6/7. ACDF is a surgery to remove a herniated or degenerative disc in the neck area of the spine. The incision is made in the front of the spine through the throat area. After the disc is removed, a bone graft is inserted to fuse together the bones above and below the disc space. Level 2 means I would be getting two done at once which is not awesome. Here’s a good simulation of what happens during an ACDF:
Looks pretty nasty, doesn’t it?
Symptoms and lack there of.
Now, for context. Anyone who has seen me or trained with me over the last 6-7 months knows that my left arm has completely atrophied (Hard to tell in the picture with these tiny guns of mine).
What has most likely happened is C5 has bulged enough that it is sitting on the main nerve root that controls signals to parts of my arm. I have lost deltoid and bicep strength and range of motion to a point where I couldn’t lift my arm to hold a toothbrush or pour a cup of coffee. I had to learn how to protect that vulnerable arm on the mat. I have spent a tremendous amount of energy and countless hours on the mat retooling my Jiu Jitsu game in an effort to work around the dead arm. It was painstaking and saddening to feel like I was starting over again, but I did it. I never quit and I feel like a monster right now.
Took 2nd at the Jiu Jitsu World League 2016 Las Vegas Super Championship with one dangling arm 🙂
It has been a huge challenge. The arm has certainly started improving over the last 3 months which has helped, but not considerably. I still get the sensation of pins and needles down the shoulder and to the bicep with certain neck/head movements. This is a symptom that shows that the nerve is still alive but still being impinged. My arm and shoulder still become extremely fatigued during training or when I work movements that use the Bicep and Deltoid. It’s super annoying!
The thing that really puzzles me the most about all of this is that I don’t have consistent pain, and have not since the last impactful episode occurred last summer. The first signs of neck issues started in March of 2014 where I kinked my neck warming up for Jiu Jitsu NoGi. I couldn’t move it hurt so bad. That kept recurring randomly every few months until June of last year when I started losing strength and motion.
Since then, I get sore but it’s not continual pain. It’s discomfort, soreness, and a ton of pins and needles. It is knots along my shoulder-blade and a crackling sensation when moving my neck left or right. However, no consistent pain, and that really concerns me. This lack of pain leaves me in a place not knowing what the right solution is, and the neurosurgeon’s don’t seem 100% confident in their prognosis due to there being no consistent pain.
So what’s next?
I am not quite sure. I know I have a lot of unanswered questions that I need to consult with Dr. Abshire about. In our initial discussions it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of options. Another viable direction with no long-term impact studies, especially when correlated with combat sports, is complete disc replacement. There have been short-term studies with good results but not enough data to make a determination that this direction is a long-term solution.
It is likely that if the ACDF surgery is the only answer, it won’t be something I am willing to do until after summer. Again, I am not in pain, I am just living with one functional arm and discomfort. I will keep researching and hunting for viable alternatives, and most certainly I will keep training for the time being. This may be the end of my Jiu Jitsu road, at least the paved road I have become accustomed to walking upon. I will enjoy every last roll until the bitter end.
~One Arm Bandit