Anyone else diagnosed with disc degeneration and stenosis in their 30's?

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    HI, I am new to this forum. I am in my mid-30's, and have worked as a critical care RN for almost 10 years. Early on in my nursing career, I sustained a few work-related muskuloskeletal upper back injuries, and was off work recovering for about a month each time. Since then, I have had more or less mild chronic back pain. The pain has been getting more severe lately, so that I would have to take strong narcotics at the end of each shift. Then a few months ago, I suddendly developed numbness, tingling and severe pain in both my arms, and I had to stop working altogether. My MRI showed degenerative disc changes and severe lateral stenosis in my cervical spine. Since being at home on therapy (physio, massage, traction, analgesics etc.) the symptoms have largely improved. Here is the thing though - it seems that no one I have seen knows what to make of it. Even though I've never had any back injury outside of work, no one can tell me if this is work-related, if work will make it worse, and where do I go from here. The neurologist was unsure if I can return to work, and referred me to a neurosurgeon. The neurosurgeon said I was not a surgical case, and said that I return to my regular duties, that it's not work-related, and so the ICU work should not make this condition worse! I was very happy to hear this, and currently making arrangements to return to work. He is one of the best neurosurgeons in the city and I value his opinion. However I would also love to hear from anyone else who can relate, or has had experience with early-onset disk degenration & stenosis. All the literature I have found on this says this usually starts much later in life.

    So my question is...has anyone else out there been diagnosed with severe stenosis/degenerative changes in their 30's (or earlier), and have you been able to keep working regular nursing duties (lifting, turning patients etc) without it becoming worse? Although I have been looking for another, more "sedentary" part time nursing job as a back-up option, the ICU is my "true love" and I would love to keep working there. I would love to hear from anyone else that has experience with anything like this as so far, I can not find much on it or anyone to relate to. I am very grateful for your support.
  2. 11 Comments so far...

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    wow, I am surprised no body has responded. Well, I myself do no have DDD but my partner of 18 years did have a multi-level fusion done on c5-c7. She had stenosis with spinal cord compression which is why she had the surgery. She also has Fibromyalgia and is currently on SSI. You wanted to know if anyone around your age has also been diagnosed with DDD, and she is 43. So, Yes. She was 37 at the time of her surgery. I wish you all the luck in the world and will pray you are able to return to your passion of working in the ICU. My best advice is to stay strong, healthy and do your best to keep a postitive attitude. God Bless
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    Oh, also. My partner also had no injury to explain the degeneration. She just suddenly began to have a lot of pain in her neck, arms and hands. An MRI revealed Degenerative Disc Disease. Although she doesn't have stenosis anymore, she still has spondylosis. So, I would have to assume it has to do with genetics. Thank you mom and dad.LOL
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    I am a new RN, but not new to the world of back pain. Nursing is my second career after spending most of my young adult life in the Marine Corps Infantry. In my late 20's I began to experience numbness and tingling in my feet, but of course ignored it as I was invincible at the time. The condition just continued to be more acute at times following my discharge from the military, until the point when a piece of the degenertive disc broke off and hit my L5-S1 nerve root causing the worst pain in my life, foot drop, and now 10 years later I have permanent nerve damage in my leg and back. With advice from my neuro surgeon I opted not to have spinal fusion due to my young age, and the increased deterioration it would cause to adjacent disks. The foot drop went away, but the continual pain is here to stay. I finished nursing school though I had many nights when my back was very tight, and unable to take anything while doing clinicals I just carried on. Now I am soon to start my first year as an working RN knowing my back and leg will always bother me to some degree, however, I know my limits, and how to be safe for myself and my patients. With this being said I know I will not be long in bedside nursing though I desire to be. It is a compromise I have to make. I am continuing my education to enable me to become an NP or educator if need be in the future. Not sure if any of this helps, but remember to take care of yourself or you can care for no one else, and that you may have to make that decision sooner than later to down shift to a more back friendly side of nursing.
    In the military work related can be established up to one year after one leaves the service if they have continuous care for a condition that obviously was not there at the beginning of their career. The civilian world is so touch and go when dealing with work related injuries it seems, due to the large amount of fraud. Unfortunately, this places undo stress on those who are actually injured on the job. I hope everything works out for you and that your injuries find a stable place to recover soon. God bless.
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    First back injury, 3 years into nursing in 2002 in the ICU. C3/4, C4/5 bulged discs, degenerative disc disease. Recovered from that still worked ICU, 2008 C2/3 got a disc bulge. Fast forward to now, 2010, I am 30 years old, with DDD, 3 bulged discs, spinal stenosis, arthritis of the spine, and an annular fissure. Off work until December 3rd and then will go from there. Unfortunately no proof it is workers comp, even though I know in my heart it is. I switched to Private Duty nursing last year and life an 80 pound kid repeatedly. I am taking January and February off for weight loss surgery, and I am hoping when I am able to go back to work, I can find an evening shift desk job because nursing is tearing up my body. You are not alone sadly.
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    Welcome to our world. I had a lifting injury 12-08 (age 38). Was treated for only a lower back and right sacroilliac issues with pain meds, chiro, PT, steriod injection.. etc, (they disregarded my headaces, and neck pain) and told I could go back to work, that this was an issue I would be dealing with the rest of my life, that nurses notriously have early degenerative changes in there back early because of the work we do. I pushed for at least an MRI before they wanted to do a steriod injection of my right sacroilliac space at this WC Comp Clinic. My first MRI 2+ months after injury ..."Mild bilateral neural foraminal stenosis and central spinal canal stenosis at L4 – L5 secondary to ligamentum flavum thickening and facet hypertrophy". Long story short is they released me to work, and to ski!!! I was miserable, in pain, with headaches daily and increasing neurosymptoms in one arm. Finally asked for a QME with a neurologist since they never had me see one, and the treatment at this clinic was horrible - he dismissed my headaches as "migraines". I was on and off modified duty initally, but back on full duty in the ED. The WC insurance Company finally let me got to any Orthodpedic I wanted - chose one I know I and trust. He got me into agressive PT, and within a week, all my neuro symtoms multplyied by 10 and new ones came.. this was 9 months after injury... he knew then I needed a spinal specialist. Finally got to one who actually took films (no one had even taken films of my neck - 9+ months had already gone by! - they just did not want to listen to a nurse!), orderd an MRI of neck and low back.. and MRI showed.. "C5 – C6 Moderate Osteophyte Complex...40% Central Canal Stenosis > compression of spinal cord and thecal sac with mild signal changes within spinal cord; Minimal bulge at C6 – C7 > Indent of Thecal Sac; Minimal bulge L4 – L5, narrowing of foramin, hypertrophy, ligamentum flavum thickening." I did conservative therapy - 2 epidurals in neck and low back.. and finally not only did I have weakness in the left arm.. one day, the right hand dropped out and I could not write. I was scheduled for emergent surgery. Had it a year ago - I had anterior cervical discectomy with fusion C5 - C7 with plates, screws and BMG. Grips came back right away. Many neuro symptoms resolved (like the arm / shoulder pain, vaginal numbess - that was horrible), but I am still left with right sided (instead of all over) headaches from the base of the neck to the forehead, and a weaker left arm (mostly in the bicep now). For the lower, I still deal with right groin pain and right sacroilliac pain, and 3 right toes have occasioanl parathesis. Still dealing with all docs.

    So no - I am not working in the ED or at the bedside.. and yes, I do miss it, but I wonder if I would have a little fear factor too if I was back at the bedside after all this. Our patients are not any smaller (the one I was assisting was 450 lbs +). Our staffing is not any better to get assistance. (The day I was injured was a Saturday - there was one tech for the whole ER, I believe another tech should have been there, but called in sick, there was a code going on in the room next to mine - and everyone was assisting there - so no one to help my guy who was circling the drain).

    We only get one body.. by our nature, we tend to help others first before ourselves, and we end up paying the price.

    You have to think long term what is best for you....The day I woke up and could not write scared the crap out of me! It was a wake up call.. I had been in denial of the whole injury and this whole process. Even after, it was taken me so much to come to terms with all this, and try to accept that I am damaged, and try and find a new direction.... still trying to figure it out...and doing consulting seems to be the best thing for me and my body.

    My prayers to you on your journey. I do believe that God puts us through these trials to grow us, and to place us where he needs us most... eventhough it can be painful.

    UPDATE December 2010..Status Post One Year Surgery ACDF C5 - C7: CT & MRI C-Spine because of continued headaches, right side neck pain, and left arm weakness.....new disc invovlement above surgery sight

    Work Comp (12-6-08 – CT findings 12-14-10): Anterior discectomy and fusion C5 to C 7 with disc space prosthesis at C5-6 and C6-7. Plate and screws; Mild to moderate central to right anterolateral epidural disc protrusion at C4-5 with dural sac imprint.; No significant canal stenosis; Right neuroforaminal stenosis at C4-5; Otherwise negative.
    Work Comp (12-6-08 – MRI findings 12-14-10): Anterior Discectomy and fusion with plate and screws C5 to C7. This is producing some artifacts; No spinal canal stenosis; Mild disc bulge C4-5 with focally greater but still mild disc protrusion central to right anterolateral epidural at C-5; mild right neuroforaminal stenosis C4-5; otherwise negative.
    Last edit by ERNeck on Dec 28, '10 : Reason: UPDATE: New Radiology - more disc invovlovement!
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    It has to be the job! I am 41 and just had microscopic discectomy with laminectomy at L4-5 2 weeks ago. I have had symptoms on and off for around a year. It started with stiffness and sciatica pain in the left buttocks and hip...then numbness and tingling starting going down my left leg all the way to my toes! I was sore Friday Nov 5 and then by Sat morning I couldn't walk or even move in bed. when I was able to get up to go to the bathroom oh my God it was like someone was constantly electrocuting my muscles in my areas I had previous symptoms. The muscle spasms that causes was severe agony! EMS picked me up after taking almost 30 mins to figure a way to get me off my bed safely. I was in the hospital until Nov 12. On Dec the 8th I went to the neurosurgeon an he said it is the worst he has EVER seen in his practice after looking at my MRI films. I was 1/8th of an inch of being completely paralyzed on my left side. I went to him on a Wed afternoon and had surgery 5 days later on Monday Dec 13th. Please do not take ANY symptoms for granted, do not wait until you beg to be shot by a gun because the pain is so intense it never lets up.

    My MRI report reads: Large disc herniation at L4-5 in the midline extending slightly to the left (explains the symptoms I had) with severe spinal canal stenosis and impingment of the nerve roots. There is mild narrowing of the left exiting neural foramen at this level. I also have a small focal disc protusion at L5-S1.

    Scary stuff....bty who said microscopic surgery was not too bad is a liar! LOL! My scar is just over 1 inch long. I am happy to have had the surgery although, conservative treatment would never worked for me!!! SO PLEASE NURSES OR NURSES TO BE, DO NOT IGNORE YOUR BACK PAIN!!!!!
    RLeeRN and Butterfly0328 like this.
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    Wow, I am sooo glad you sought treatment before it was to late. I wish you health and happiness as you continue to heal. Will you be able to return to some form of nursing? God Bless:redpinkhe
    Melody48_MSNEd likes this.
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    I HOPE SO! I am planning on looking for a teaching job. I am in my last class for my BSN and it only has 5 weeks left in it Then on for my MSN in Education. I was going to go for NP, but now I am not sure that will be good for me, stress, long hours, worrried about being sued, malpractice, people wanting pain meds...etc.
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    I am 22 years old and have ligamentous laxity....my ligaments are "loose" and have to much movement than their supposed to. Their is no cure, surgery or treatment :-( Well actually my orthopedic said when i'm older i could have surgery but it may not work so i'm not gonna even give it a chance. Anyway, I was 14 when I was running and turned a sharp corner and my kneecap (Patella) popped out of its socket..I know it sound horrible I cringe everytime i think about it!! Well every since then about every 6 months or so it will pop-out and pop right back in -in a matter of seconds. It mainly painless but as you can imagine its a horrible feeling! Some expierence have been worse than others where my knew was swollen and painfull for days, while others were for minutes. Anyway it used to be predictable when I was dancing and during a sport so I always made sure to wear my knee brace under my pants when going out to have a good time. It occured a few weeks ago when I was simply walking to my car not even running or sprinting out of no where! We all have things to live with I rather have a bad knee cap than lets say........ummm....acromegley or something!


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