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 ARCHIVED TOPIC: HELP! Finger numbness and burning sensation

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CTYANKEE - Posted - 12/22/2008:  18:30:22

Hello everyone. I'm hoping someone can enlighten me or provide some kind of support for a physical problem I have been experiencing since February which prevents me from pickin'.

I woke up one morning with a severe stiff neck and pain radiating down my left arm accompanied by numbness in my first and second fingers. After numerous visits to a chiropractor, the pain went away but the numbness persisted. An MRI showed bone spurs with severe impingement of the nerve root at C5-6 and C6-7 of my cervical spine. After trying physical therapy for several weeks with no sucess, I had a minimally invasive posterior foraminotomy (removal of the bone spurs) in July. At the time the neurosurgeon told me to be patient, that it would be six to twelve months before I might get the feeling back in my fingers.

Well, unfortunately for me, my fingers have gotten progressively worse with a constant burning sensation providing continuous discomfort. A second MRI showed that the surgery was indeed successful in removing the bone spurs, but the deteriorating condition of my fingers would not allow me to fret a string without severe discomfort. I was referred to another doctor who performed an EMG nerve conduction test and I've been told that I also have mild carpal tunnel syndrome. I am about to begin physical therapy but I am wondering if anyone has dealt with a similar situation?

Sorry for the long post, but I am at my wits end and very frustrated that I cannot play my guitars. Any insight or advice would be greatly appreciated. Happy Holidays to all!

rdeputy - Posted - 12/22/2008:  18:53:13

My father is going through something quite similar to you, but in his case the burning and numbness is going down his entire arm starting up in the shoulder area. He, too has done the chiropractor visits and has visited with other specialists. His began after a heart bypass operation and subsequent stroke. To shorten a very long story, he has been informed that he has to have surgery on his spine in his neck (going to have to go in through his mouth and work it from that direction - sounds awful to me). He has been in pain for months and it is affecting his rehab from the bypass operation. It is a sad situation for a guy who is only 70.

I'm no doctor, but it sounds to me like you may need to see what else they can do to get the pinch off your nerves or help the circulation. Sure sorry to hear about all your troubles with playing the guitar. If I couldn't play music, I would be terribly frustrated. I wish you all the best and hope your doctors can help your situation.



Let''s keep bluegrass music alive for all generations to enjoy.

slowhand - Posted - 12/22/2008:  20:56:05

I can't give you any medical advice, but you might take some encouragement from the fact that Allen Shadd, the second place winner at Winfield this year (and I think a past champion) went through something similar due to a pinched nerve in his neck, and was unable to play for about a year because of it. He ultimately recovered, so you shouldn't give up hope.

As for myself, I shattered my right shoulder in a skiing accident the day after Thanksgiving, and the surgeon used 12 pins to put it back together. It's going to be a long time before I'll be able to reach around to the front of my guitar, because I have very little range of movement in my shoulder while it's healing. I'm pretty optimistic that things will work out, however, because there wasn't any apparent neural or vascular damage. But in the meantime, it's a drag not being able to play, and not knowing what the ultimate impact on my playing ability will be.

AllenShadd - Posted - 12/22/2008:  21:51:40

I had surgery for the same thing, at the C6-7 vertebrae in May of this year. I had played in discomfort for over a year and ultimately severe pain about this time last year, so I had to put the guitar down. I did the two months of physical therapy before the doctor decided it wasn't working. Meanwhile I lost additional strength in the left arm/hand because of it, in fact my therapist teased me about having old lady elbows because the muscle just kind of hung off the bone. So I had the surgery in May, took a week off from work (I'm a plumber, pretty physical job) and started the process of recovery. While I still miss strength, it has gotten better, and the sensitivity in my left hand fingers (pinky and ring) has somewhat improved. I didn't pick a guitar up until about 3 weeks before Winfield in September, since I at least needed to try and have callouses. Having less strength meant I could only play for 15-20 minutes at a time and still play somewhat clean, so I was only able to practice a total of about 3 hours. The additional hard part for me is that having put it down for so long just took the desire right out of me to pick it up.

The orthopedic surgeon wanted to take the disc and fuse it, so I went for a second opinion, (a neurosurgeon) at the prodding of my girlfriend (thank you, Lauren). He opted for a fairly new procedure that is minimally invasive, using the same techniques they use for arthroscopic knee surgery and lower back surgery. The holes they drilled in my head for the brace hurt more than the actual hole where they went in to the neck. Now I don't know what your doctor said, but here's what mine said. The nerves have to grow back before the muscles can respond, and they may come back 100% and then again they may not, depends on how much damage and for how long. Yes it may take 6 to 12 months and that may not be a guarantee that you get it all back.

Now, for your guitars, you may try a couple of things to help in the meanwhile until you get back on the road to recovery. First, ask your doctor and/or pt if it is ok to play, don't want to cause some negative reaction to whatever treatment they may be doing. I hate drugs, even aspirin, but I did take advil before playing a few times to knock the edge off. Set your guitar up with light gauge strings, drop the action if you need to, and maybe even try repositioning the guitar in your lap if you sit and play.

It would sound cheesy to say 'I feel your pain', but I can say that in all honesty. I'm still in the process of recuperating, it's been slow, and I count my blessings knowing that it could be worse. I hope you get better, if I can help in any way let me know.

musekatcher - Posted - 12/23/2008:  12:23:13

Hi CTYankee,

I noticed that you have very nice instruments, and have played for a long time, like myself. In my case, the pain is self-inflicted: I used to be in better shape, played regularly, practiced regularly, but, as I got older, I tend to let my instruments sit, and when I pick them up, I expect to be able to rattle off at 240 bpm for 2 hours non-stop like I used to. Unrealistic expectations on my part. So, I litterally have to remind myself to go slow and easy when I pick them up, and if I really want to play that fast for that long, say for an upcoming jam, I work up to it over a week or two, by playing daily, and a little longer and faster each day. Its a drag, but it beats injuring yourself after 30 minutes. Just a thought.

Jim Holland
Athens, AL

biznork - Posted - 12/23/2008:  14:34:52

I've been struggling with cubital tunnel syndrome for the last six months. I went to a chiropractor who specializes in the Graston technique and Active Release. After about two month of therapy my arm is almost totally healed.

Gus Bloch - Posted - 12/25/2008:  04:27:05

Vitamin B supplements (B-50) has been very helpful for me and a NIASD type medication before a performance helps as well. Also consider seeing a rheumatology and pain specialist. Their knowledge of nerve and arthritic disorders can be helpful.
Guitar is the worst offender for numbness next to age for me.
I have taken up other instruments such as clawhammer and plectrum banjos, ukuleles,
mandolin, singing and bones. By switching around depending on the song, I now can get through even a three to four hour gig with no problem. The variety is a plus, but having to bring them all along is not.
Hoping you feel better.

CTYANKEE - Posted - 12/25/2008:  21:06:18

Thank you so much for your responses.

Alan, your situation is nearly identical to mine. I should add that I am a 57 year old intermediate picker that has been playing guitar for 40+ years and flatpicking for 10. Playing the guitar is a joyous stress reliever for me and prior to the onset of my condition 11 months ago I would play an average of 1 to 2 hours nearly every day. The first neurosurgeon who read my first MRI wanted to do an immediate 3 level fusion at C5-6-7 because I have a couple of bulging discs. The second neurosurgeon I saw told me that a fusion wasn't necessary because the pinched nerve was being caused by arthritic bone spurs, not the bulging discs. He suggested the posterior foraminotomy, but he was old school, prefering to go in through the back of the neck with a 4 inch incission, discecting the muscles which I was told would be a painful and slow to recover procedure. I found a third neurosurgeon who performed the "minimally invasive" procedure where I have about a 1 inch scar on the back of my neck. The actual procedure itself was fine, no problems, and recovery time was quick. I had my surgery on July 17th. In addition to the numbness in the first two fingers of my fretting hand, I also had tricep atrophy and loss of strength. Within a couple of weeks my strength in my tricep came back but the numbness in the fingers got progressively worse and I started to feel a strange but intense "burning" sensation which totally prevents me from fretting a string without significant discomfort. An EMG nerve conduction test that I just had last week revealed that I also have mild carpal tunnel syndrome. I am scheduled to start physical therapy after the first of the year, which will include myofacial massage of "trigger" points in my upper back and neck area as well as accupuncture to try to calm down the carpal tunnel.

I really appreciate the kind responses from everyone. I know I will need to be patient, but at least I am feeling that there is some hope that eventually I will be able to play my guitars again. I am so glad that I found Flatpicker hangout and this terrific community. Blessings to all for a happy, healthy, and musical New Year!


Edited by - CTYANKEE on 12/25/2008 21:12:23

tfaux - Posted - 12/26/2008:  04:07:44

Look up the local Alexander Technique instructor, or at least do a little on-line research. It's a very low-impact posture and alignment technique that is particularly effective for musicians. My partner is a professional violinist and Alexander teacher who has helped a number of musicians reverse their carpal tunnel syndrome and avoid surgery--including on herself.
If you can't find anyone in your area, check with the local orchestra or music school.


Gman - Posted - 01/05/2009:  14:31:36

I had a similar situation, but it was the last two fingers on each hand that went numb. The condition was called Ulnar Neuropathy, and was the result of nerve damage at the elbow caused by spending so much time at a computer keyboard (I sat at a desk all day for work, at the time). I did not have to have any surgery, but I did have the EMG nerve conduction test (if you're really into unpleasant things you should run right out and schedule one now!). My doctor told me that nerves heal at a rate of about 1 inch per month, so it wasn't until about a year later that full feeling returned to my fingers.

Sounds like you're situation is much worse than mine, so good luck and best wishes.

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