What do medical test results  for back pain mean?  Does it all sound like Greek to you?

Here’s an email I received from “Keith”:

Hi Kathryn,

I do regular workouts at gym and martial arts. For many years I often get a stiff neck or intense stabbing pain in my right scalpula or rhomboid (I am right-handed). It occurred once during heavy barbell shoulder press (overhead) and once when stretching out after a back workout when I held my right arm straight out and with my left hand pulled it towards the left side. It almost felt as if something gets torn in my back.

The pain is so intense it hurts when I breathe, too, and only reduces after muscle relaxants. I took an MRI and the diagnosis came out as ‘broad-based left paracentral protrusion of C5-C6 disc indenting the anterior subarachnoid space abutting the left C6 exiting nerve root. Mild ligamentum flavum prominence seen at this level indenting the posterior subarachnoid space’.

I cannot understand this and the doctors did not tell me what to do about it except ‘don’t work out hard!’.

Can you tell me specific exercises to perform and which ones to avoid? Your input will be very helpful.

Here’s my response (please remember:  I am not a doctor.)

Muscles can be torn and so can their attachments at bones.  If you cannot lift weights with perfect form you are lifting too much weight.

Back pain happens for a reason.  A medical test tells what the test sees at that moment.  It’s like a snapshot.  But it doesn’t tell why you have pain in the shoulder blade.

Here’s my interpretation of your diagnosis in a nutshell:

That diagnosis means you have a tight area of muscle pushing your disk toward the left.  Why?  Most likely the muscles on the right side of your back are tight or in spasm.

Muscles can push or pull on disks and bones.  Bones cannot move on their own–muscles move bones and disks.  That is their job.

Here are my long distance suggestions:

1.  Try using a tennis ball to help relax the muscles on your right side.  Lie on it while you are laying on your back.  Find the most tender place and just lay there for 5 minutes.  Then roll a little to see if there are other tight muscles on the back.

There is also the outside chance that there are tight muscles on the left side of your spine, too.

2.  Ideally, you would go to a massage therapist who would help relax that area as well as the muscles on your sides and front pectoral muscles (upper chest) and ribs.

3.  Cold packs can help relax that area but the problem is  probably NOT just where it hurts.  You may have other areas that are acting to cause your back pain.  That’s why I suggest the chest and ribs.  Might be the lats, too.

Please remember:

Bodies change and heal all the time.  Just because that is what the test showed yesterday doesn’t mean that is what will show tomorrow or next month.

If you take the pressure from tight muscles off the spine and disks they can move back into the correct position.

Poor rhomboid!  It gets blamed all the time but most often the pain in the rhomboid area comes from other muscles.

 

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