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Neck Surgery or Yoga & Physical Therapy… No Brainer

It’s been two months since I got the news that I might need neck surgery and it’s been one month and thirteen days since I decided to opt for “Plan B” of yoga and physical therapy, a decision that I am glad I made every single day.

The Diagnosis

Not a lot of people are familiar with my full story, but for the last thirteen years I have had debilitating migraines. Sometimes as many as four to five a week. These have been the excruciating kind of migraines that have caused me to be nauseous and dizzy. Where every little bit of light or sound felt like someone was pounding my temples with a sledge hammer.

For a while, nearly every day I would come home and my five year old son would meet me at the door with one of my T-shirts in his hand asking if I would like to lay down so that he could put the shirt over my eyes. It was horrible, existing day in and day out like this. Unable to enjoy the simple things in life because of these migraines.

After trying every beta blocker and almost every pain killer out there, I tried to make an appointment with my doctor who as it turns out was not available. So I opted instead to see Justin, the nurse practitioner. I told Justin about my migraines and he looked at me with concern, then said “Have you ever tried PT?”.

I squinted my eyes and asked “Why would physical therapy help my migraines.”

He told me that I had a lot of tension in my neck and perhaps this was something they could help me with in PT. It had never even occurred to me or my doctor that physical therapy may have helped. So, I booked an appointment with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Sports Therapy and met with Kyle, a specialist in neck problems. Within one visit he had discovered the severe tension that I was experiencing at the C1-C4 vertebrae and had further shown me that I was capable of almost no movement in these vertebrae. So we began a regimen of traction and movement exercises. Within a month, my life was changed. I was coming home without a headache, much less a migraine. I was able to take my children places, spend time with my family and do it migraine free. I was shocked that four vertebrae could cause so many problems.

I continued PT for another three months and finally was able to sign off on it.

Fast forward five years to 2017 which my migraines began coming back again, mind you not with the frequency that they were back in 2012 when I had PT. So I once again sought the help of the physical therapists at MGH and this time Eli was assigned to me, to which I am extremely grateful. As before we worked with traction and movement exercises and it has helped immensely. Unfortunately with the location of where the tightness occurs I cannot always do these exercises myself so it is critical to have someone like Eli or Kyle to help with this. During one of our discussions Eli recommended I see a neurologist due to other strange issues I’ve been having losing feeling on the right side of my face.

So – I was off to see Dr. Young at MGH in the neurology department who asked that I have a cervical MRI. I had had numerous MRIs of my head, but never a cervical one. My results came back and I was surprised that they actually found something. My C6 vertebrae had actually slid forward a little. It wasn’t a lot, but they found that it was putting pressure on my discs awkwardly and may possibly be putting a little pressure on my spinal cord. Dr. Young referred me to a neurosurgeon who looked over my MRI and told me “Well Jason, we have two options. You can either do surgery, which could fix your problem… or you could try physical therapy and yoga, which won’t fix your problem but it could give you enough flexibility that it will correct itself a little. The tension in your neck is basically because your muscles are trying to counteract the misalignment of the C6 vertebrae.”

The Decision

Lovin’ #yoga at @beaconhillyoga. #yogaeverydamnday #yogaeverywhere

A post shared by Jason Stadtlander (@jasonstadtlander) on

Obviously I was already seeing Eli, so I told myself that I had to at least try yoga for a couple weeks and see if it even helped so I joined a Beacon Hill Yoga studio for a two week trial. I didn’t immediately notice a difference with my neck, but I did almost immediately notice a difference in my body. After a few classes I noticed how much more flexible I was feeling overall. I was sleeping better, I had more tone in my body and I felt more centered. I decided to continue the classes into a normal membership and I’ve been trying to balance my workouts with my yoga classes. I honestly had no idea what I was even missing until I began. I am now trying to attend 4-6 yoga and barre classes a week.

I still have a very long way to go, but I can honestly say that my newfound yoga is definitely helping in some ways. Only time will tell if it will keep me from having to have neck surgery, but that is my hope. On the other side of why I saw my neurologist, I am noticing a tiny bit of feeling coming back in the right side of my face. Perhaps that is from the yoga? Perhaps not. We shall see.

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