info@myelopathy.org

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On InstagramVisit Us On YoutubeCheck Our Feed

Category Uncategorized

Living with long term conditions like myelopathy

 BY Dr Amalia Gasson
​   
Amalia has been working in adult mental health in the NHS for eight years, currently working in a community mental health rehabilitation team.  She is experienced in working therapeutically with clients with a wide range of difficulties, with a focus on anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties and serious mental health difficulties. She also has an interest in chronic pain and physical health conditions and has completed research into chronic fatigue syndrome. 

Life is stressful. Every day there are lots of events that will fill up our “stress buckets” to varying levels…the computer stops working, we drop a cup, there’s a queue in the shop.
If we have had a bad night’s sleep our stress bucket is already part full before we get out of bed.
Living with long term health conditions means we may have buckets almost overflowing to start the day with and then one “small” stress makes that bucket overflow and everything feels impossible to cope with.

Finding ways to manage our stress levels reduces those times of feeling overwhelmed. It can also have a positive impact on our physical health. There are many very good online resources with tips and techniques that you may find helpful.

Picture

Dr Amalia Gasson: Clinical Psychologist

Picture

Managing energy levels
With any health condition, there is a significant impact on our energy levels. Generally, we tend to go through life doing the most we can in the shortest time. Then our health can stop us in our tracks.
Learning to manage our energy so it feels less of a rollercoaster and more predictable can be tricky. This site has a whole range of self help resources. This link is specifically to the cycles we get into which can make managing energy difficult, and ways to make changes:

https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/chronicfp.htm

Spoon Theory is another approach to managing energy
https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/


Pain

Managing pain levels, like fatigue, links to the ideas of pacing and spoon theory. There are also specific resources about pain such as:
http://www.moodjuice.scot.nhs.uk/ChronicPain.asp

The pain toolkit is created by someone who experiences chronic pain. There are videos on this site and also a pdf download: https://www.paintoolkit.org/tools

The British Pain Society also has helpful information: https://www.britishpainsociety.org/

Mindfulness
It feels like you can’t go anywhere nowadays without hearing someone talking about mindfulness. This is an approach developed from eastern Buddhist meditation techniques and applied to pain management. It was found to be so helpful it has spread throughout healthcare as a way of managing stress.
At its core is a very simple idea, which is surprisingly difficult to put into practice: “Be in the present moment.”

Most of the time we are caught up in thoughts or regrets about the past, or worries about the future, and rarely notice the present. 

​Have you ever driven somewhere, arriving without remembering the journey? Have you ever been reading a book without taking it in? Looking at your watch without actually seeing the time? These are all examples of being “mindless” which is the opposite of being mindful. 

There are some good links about mindfulness here, and several downloads and resources to listen to:
https://www.mindful.org/what-is-mindfulness/
https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/mindfulness.htm

There are many mindfulness books available. In my work I tend to use Mindfulness for Dummies, by Shamash Alidina, as it is so practical.

One very simple mindfulness practice is to go through all your senses, focusing on each one in turn. By doing this you are totally absorbing yourself in the present, even if only very briefly. 

I’m also a fan of the mindful eating idea, often done with a raisin but this one uses chocolate
https://www.jmu.edu/counselingctr/files/Mindful%20eating.pdf 

A great article from Brain & Life (American academy of neurology) on meditation called Inner peace.
Brain & Life 

We now have our very own INSIGHT TIMER group  for Cervical Myelopathy you can join by entering your details in the form belowCervical Myelopathy you can join by entering your details in the form below


Do you want to join our very own insight timer meditation group? if so please fill in your details below

Compassion
How kind are you to yourself?
When you are having a tough day, do you congratulate yourself on what you manage despite that, or do you have a go at yourself for struggling?

As humans we are generally pretty rubbish at being kind to ourselves. An approach called compassion focused therapy is based on how the human brain evolved and explains why we are so tough on ourselves. 

Paul Gilbert, who developed this approach, believes in sharing all the resources and information:
https://compassionatemind.co.uk/

A summary of compassion focused therapy ideas can be found at :
https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/compassion.htm
There are some nice worksheets on becoming aware of your levels of criticism and compassion practices under therapist resources at: https://www.actwithcompassion.com/therapist_resources

The centre for clinical interventions is an Australian site with excellent self help workbooks for a whole range of issues including building compassion, managing panic, dealing with distress and overcoming perfectionism (a character trait many of us have but which makes pacing energy nigh on impossible so definitely worth a quick look): http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/consumers.cfm
Most have simple questions in the first module to help you assess whether this is a specific area that might be helpful for you to explore further.

Finally, the great thing about the internet is just how many resources there are.
You may have come across many that you could share on a forum like this to help others. 

There are also great Apps like Headspace which talk you through mindfulness exercises.
This is a list of Apps recommended by the NHS: https://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/links2.htm

Here is a list here of mindfulness apps:
 https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/top-meditation-iphone-android-apps

If you feel you want further support for your mental health and ways of managing stress, a good first point of contact is your GP who can refer on to primary care therapy. 
There are many parts of the UK where you can also refer yourself – the NHS website has a service finder:

https://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/Psychological-therapies-(IAPT)/LocationSearch/10008

Mind often offer free courses and support: https://www.mind.org.uk/
The Samaritans have useful information on their site https://www.samaritans.org/, have the phone number 116123 and you can email jo@samaritans.org (they aim to respond to email within 24 hours).

In crisis 
If you feel you are in crisis with your mental health and you are
having – suicidal thoughts and feelings; or thoughts about harming yourself or someone else; or you have seriously hurt yourself…
You can go to any hospital A&E department and ask for help (if you need to, call  999  and ask for an ambulance). There are specialist mental health liaison teams in hospitals who will see you quickly and be able to offer the most appropriate support

Hydrotherapy brings green shoots of recovery to exercise desert.

PictureDelphine Houlton

By Delphine Houlton

On completion of my first ACDF, the surgeon immediately informed my anxious husband that I would never ride a bike again.
That was in 2007 and, to be fair, I have not taken to the saddle since.  After initial improvements, unfortunately many Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy (DCM) symptoms returned. Fusion had not taken place and the discs had slipped slightly.
On discharge from my second ACDF in 2008, with discs caged and this time a soft collar for six weeks, I was told not to put any strain on my neck at all. I still had balance/walking problems and numbness alongside other symptoms.
Neither my GP nor my neurologist ever contradicted the “no strain on the neck” message. Although I did learn that if I had MS I would have been immediately offered physiotherapy and hydrotherapy.

So, I dutifully did not put strain on my neck for more than eight years – my symptoms worsened as I gained weight, and felt rubbish, in an exercise desert.

​After all, logically, the gym was out of the question – I would have fallen over if I had gone on the treadmill thanks to the balance problems. Even in the shopping centre my legs seized up after a three-minute slow and painful walk. Furthermore, my favourites in a previous life, rowing machines and swimming certainly put strain on the neck, as did all weight-training equipment. 

Giving up work and becoming more housebound, in total frustration, I found a private physiotherapist and explained the problems. She was knowledgeable and caring. I worked hard to strengthen my core muscles, improve my balance and more. However, progress was slow and, to be honest, the exercises boring in the longer term. However, she had opened a window of possibility.



I asked my GP directly for a referral for hydrotherapy and she agreed. 
Six months later I was standing chest-deep in warm water – stretching, balancing, walking forwards, sideways and backwards, bending my knees, practising going up and down a step in the pool, sitting on a chair and cycling with my legs and relaxing every muscle as I floated. Movements I had struggled with, or avoided on land for years, were all possible.
Picture

Hydrotherapy


The goal, I was told, was to revive muscle memory. Taking advantage of the ease of movement in the warm water, I was reminding all my muscles how they should be working in a whole range of manoeuvres I found impossible out of the water.

My initial six sessions gave me the confidence, and the ability, to tackle so much more out of the water too. 
Additional sessions have built up my strength and confidence even further. 
I can now tackle many tasks in the garden, go for a short walk on uneven ground in the countryside, and walk up and down stairs without too much discomfort or fear of falling. I can even bend enough to put on boots, socks and tights again! 

Of course, there are still not-so-good days when I need to think harder about where all my limbs are and how to move them. However, the confidence I have regained through hydrotherapy keeps me going and keen to take on more physical challenges at every possible opportunity. 

Unsurprisingly, my mood too has greatly improved – I see a much brighter future ahead rather than the gloom and frustration of a continuing decline in physical abilities and increasingly limited lifestyle.
The transformation hydrotherapy has brought to my exercise desert is clearly anecdotal evidence. Proper research is needed into the benefits of hydrotherapy for people with DCM. 
If hydrotherapy can be shown to improve outcomes, and relieve low mood associated with limited lifestyles, then we must push for the option of hydrotherapy to be incorporated into all DCM post-operative treatment programmes. It also possibly has the potential to help relieve pre-operative problems too.


    Have you used hydrotherapy?
    If so we would like to hear about your experience?

Can we detect myelopathy before symptoms develop?

By J.Hamilton. 

Why is ASCC relevant to Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy?
Asymptomatic spinal cord compression (ASCC) is very common; studies of healthy volunteers has identified between 8 and 59 in every 100 patients who underwent a cervical MRI had it! [1]  These are the same compression features seen in DCM, however less that 1 in a hundred patients from these studies had any symptoms of myelopathy….   Hence the term ASCC (as opposed to DCM, which is defined by the symptoms of the condition, such as pain and weakness).

However, we know from other studies that some people with ASCC go onto develop DCM over time and this has led to the suggestion that ASCC actually represents the earliest stages of DCM.  In order to further evaluate this, researchers from North America have been using new MRI imaging techniques to better understand asymptomatic cord compression and to see whether the compression is affecting the spinal cord. 

What was the aim of the study?
The study, undertaken at the University of Toronto had two primary aims:

1)Can ASCC be automatically diagnosed by using computer analysis of MRI images?
2)Can damage to the spinal cord be visualised using new MRI techniques in ASCC? 

How did they measure subclinical damage and cord compression?
The group recruited 40 individuals to the study, 20 of which has ASCC and 20 had no evidence of cord compression.

Aim Number 1
The performance of a computer programme to diagnose cord compression was compared to a group of experts and found to be just as good.  

Aim Number 2:
The group then compared people with and without ASCC using a number of new techniques to look at the structure within the spinal cord, these include the following
The researchers found that some of these new imaging techniques were able to detect changes within the ASCC group that are also seen in DCM; specifically, FA, MTR and T2*WI WM/GM.  When compared to uncompressed individuals, a combined score looking at a combination of parameters was very accurate at spotting tissue injury. This indicated that there is a degree of tissue damage before symptoms in ASCC, and that this perhaps represents the early stage of degeneration that progresses into degenerative cervical myelopathy. 

What to make of this?
This study is informative to clinicians, as it reflects a way to diagnose ASCC early on before significant damage has been done to induce symptoms.  The success of the computer diagnosis also means ‘expertise’ can be transferred into any hospital setting.  This is exciting, as we know that if we could detect DCM earlier, and offer treatment sooner, patients would make a better recovery.  

The finding that ASCC causes tissue damage also may make us question our definition of myelopathy. Currently, symptoms are the definitive characteristic of myelopathy, but as advances in technology allow us to detect spinal cord damage in the absence of symptoms, this may change. The symptoms of myelopathy may reflect a later stage of damage that occurs after what we can now see using MRI. 
Furthermore, the findings of similar tissue injury in ASCC to DCM indicated a possible definitive link between the two disease states. The researchers compare the two as being similar to “pre-diabetes” and “diabetes” (a scenario where people who are struggling to handle their blood sugars are identified even earlier, with some able to make changes to prevent the onset of diabetes). Perhaps what we are seeing here is a “pre-DCM” state.  This still requires more work to be confirmed.  We look forward to following the research story further! 

Myelopathy needs you!

Share your experience of CSM and Pain Here

Many patients with CSM report pain, but this experience and its impact is unknown. So can you please take a few minutes and help us with this survey,This survey aims to find out more about pain in CSM to support much needed research in this area. 
References
1.
Prevalence and Imaging Characteristics of Non-Myelopathic and Myelopathic Spondylotic Cervical Cord Compression. (2016). Prevalence and Imaging Characteristics of Non-Myelopathic and Myelopathic Spondylotic Cervical Cord Compression. http://doi.org/10.1097/BRS.0000000000001842
2.
Can microstructural MRI detect subclinical tissue injury in subjects with asymptomatic cervical spinal cord compression? A prospective cohort study. (2018). Can microstructural MRI detect subclinical tissue injury in subjects with asymptomatic cervical spinal cord compression? A prospective cohort study., 8(4), e019809. http://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019809

Neck Muscles and CSM– An Update Part 2 of 2

Picture

By Timothy Boerger
Reviewed by B.Davies

Neck Muscles and CSM– An Update Part 2 of 2
This second of a 2-part mini-series on the properties of muscles in the neck and how they impact outcomes of surgery. We previously looked at this following an early piece of research from North America.  This series will serve as an update on this research.

Why was this study conducted?
For a short recap of the previous 2 blogs related to this: how much fat there is within muscles has been related to symptoms of myelopathy. Additionally, cervical lordosis, or, the curve of the neck, is believed to be related to outcomes following laminoplasty.1 

How was the study conducted?
This study performed a pre-operative MRI at which they performed measurements of the neck muscles. They then tracked the participants for 12 months post cervical laminoplasty to assess the curvature of the neck with x-ray.

What was discovered?
The main finding was that muscle size at multiple vertebral levels in the neck is related to loss of curve following surgery. The smaller the neck muscle size, the greater loss of neck curve.

Why is this important?
This is further evidence suggesting the muscles in your neck are important in myelopathy.  It should be noted that this study only looked at patients who underwent a laminoplasty, one of many different types of surgical procedure for myelopathy (i.e. it is unclear whether this finding would be applicable to other types of surgery such as ACDF).
​ 

Whilst this link is again being drawn, it remains to be seen whether or not treatments to help neck musculature could make a difference to patients.  The authors in this study suggest it could better advise on the type of surgery that is to be performed.  Drilling down to these questions will be an important next step for this line of research. 

Have you had any therapy to strengthen your neck pre- or post- surgery? Did it help?
    
Reference
Lee BJ et al. Importance of the Preoperative Cross-Sectional Area of the Semispinalis Cervicis as a Risk Factor for Loss of Lordosis after Laminoplasty in Patients with Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy. Euro Spine J. epub 2018: 1-10


We are pleased to welcome Tim Boerger to the team

PictureTim Boerger

We would like to take this opportunity to welcome Tim Boerger to the myelopathy.org team,he will be contributing to the blog by writing summaries of recently published research.
Tim Boerger is a Ph.D. student in rehabilitation science at Marquette University in the United States. His dissertation research focusses on walking and balance function in patients with cervical myelopathy. He himself had an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion in November 2016 for a cervical disc herniation with myelopathy. Prior to all of this, he worked for several years providing rehabilitation for patients with leg, shoulder, back, and neck injuries.

 Tim’s  Story Pre-Op
A little about myself, I am currently 29 years old living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States of America and for work am a graduate research assistant and PhD student at Marquette University. What led up to me being diagnosed with myelopathy occurred a couple years ago back in summer of 2016. My wife and I had just purchased a house and the best I can figure, I hurt my neck while we were moving.
Fast forward about 2 weeks (to early August) and I started to develop mild to moderate shoulder and neck pain along with some nasty “knots” in my heck and shoulder. Since I couldn’t think there was any immediate injury, I assumed this was due to sleeping wrong or improper ergonomics at my workstation. This was persisting for about 6 weeks to late September, and I was managing the pain with some Aleve. 

Now it’s late September and I woke up one Saturday around 4:30a.m. with the worst physical pain I have ever experience. It quite honestly felt like every muscle in my entire left shoulder, arm, and forearm was spasming and cramping simultaneously with a sharp, aching, and burning pain in my shoulder radiating down my arm. This would spike any time I tried to move it. Eventually that day, I started to also feel numbness and tingling develop in my left thumb and index finger. At this point, I SHOULD have known what was going on. I’m an athletic trainer (which in the U.S. is a profession that specializes in injuries and illnesses related to physical activity and athletics) and a PhD student in rehabilitation science. I’ve taken 8 graduate credits of neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. I should have seen it, but I was blinded by my own stubborn pride. “I am too young for something like that to happen without a serious injury” and “I have no mechanism of injury” were my thoughts. “It must just by a tight muscle pinching a nerve root from all these knots” was my conclusion.

I. Should. Have. Known.
I ended up going to a local walk-in clinic the next morning and, sure enough, the diagnosis was herniated disc. They prescribed me some weak pain relievers and said they didn’t expect them to work and that I may just end up in the E.D. that night asking for something more serious. So, we went over to the E.D. right away. They gave me a prescription for Percocet and got me an MRI of my cervical spine. The MRI results came back not good. *WARNING medical jargon*: I had an extruded C5-6 disc herniation with severe foraminal stenosis (narrowing of the hole for the nerve root to go out to the body), mild-moderate cervical canal stenosis (narrowing of the hole for the spinal cord), and mild spinal cord deformity. I was scheduled a follow up appointment with a neurosurgeon a couple weeks later. I, however, wanted to try and get seen a little sooner and start on some conservative treatments so I managed an appointment with a Physiatrist in the mean time. Her impression was that the injury was not that significant and, in particular, the spinal cord deformity wasn’t too serious since I had plenty of room for the spinal cord still. I got started on physical therapy. About a week after that, I had a couple physical therapy sessions in and saw the neurosurgeon. Up to that point, PT wasn’t really helping the pain that much, and the pain was too bad to be able to do any exercises. At the surgery visit, the surgeon was less optimistic. She found something that wasn’t present before, known as hyperreflexia, in my left hand. This meant that the the compression on the spinal cord was an issue after all, and she was pretty confident I would not be able to recover without surgery.
What is hyperreflexia: (*WARNING more science-y stuff*: basically the brain sends inhibitory signals down to the motor neurons in the spinal cord to prevent reflexes like the knee tap reflex from being too strong. If the nerve sending that descending signal is compressed, the signal doesn’t get through and the reflex is stronger than it should be…. i.e. because of the compression, there is less information from the brain getting through to the motor nerves in the spinal cord to tell them to be quiet.)
Surgery
The surgeon was willing to continue trying conservative therapy on the condition that if I didn’t notice improvement within 6 weeks to 3 months, I should go ahead and schedule surgery. I tried a couple more weeks of physical therapy. This ultimately didn’t help at all and may have made me feel worse in the short term. In this time, I had a medical genetics test, that I basically bombed due to pain, and tried my best to struggle through classes and work in spite of the pain. After about 2 weeks, I had a follow up with the Physiatrist I had seen. She confirmed the hyperreflexia the surgeon had observed. We had a good discussion about the implications of that, and discussed that she also now believed I needed surgery. 

By this point, I had already failed physical therapy (in the sense of it became evident that PT wouldn’t help) and started on the path to schedule surgery. At work, my boss/advisor (since that is the same thing in a lot of PhD programs) and I discussed the implication on classes and work. I ended up needing to drop out of classes for the semester and ended up having to retake the next couple semesters.
Symptom wise, I also started to develop tingling in my right hand in my thumb and pinky fingers, which would indicate greater seriousness of the compression on the cord. About a week after that, I noticed tingling in my right foot and leg. A few days after that, I noticed that my walking was being impacted. Specifically, I couldn’t lift my foot enough (dorsiflex) to clear my toe off the ground when I swung-through. This caused me to almost trip and fall a couple times. Therefore, I asked my advisor (a physical therapist as well) to check the strength of my right ankle. Sure enough it was a little weak compared to the left ankle. This was a week before my surgery was scheduled.
I ended up having surgery on Nov 15, 2016. The surgery went well though the overnight stay in the hospital was a bit rough. I was in quite a bit of pain, they wouldn’t let me have anything by mouth all night because I vomited after drinking shortly after surgery, and I needed a urinary catheter a few times. I was able to pass my inpatient physical and occupational therapy testing right away and went home the day after my surgery. 
The surgical procedure is referred to as an Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion. Briefly, that involves entering through the front of the neck to access the spine from the front. This has better outcomes because they can basically slide between layers of muscles rather than cut through them, like they would have to do from the back. In my case they then took out part of the disc, put in a cadaver bone spacer between the vertebrae, and put a titanium plate over the whole deal. While before surgery, they didn’t think I really had a case of myelopathy, due to the onset of symptoms in the other hand, foot, and walking problems the operative diagnosis was a herniated cervical disc with myelopathy.

Post Op
After surgery, I continued to be in pain from the surgery for several weeks. I had some problems swallowing for about a week or two, and sleep was uncomfortable at times for awhile

I returned  to work on January 5th with restrictions. Basically, I could only do computer work for awhile until the two vertebrae fused. I was on a 10lb and then 20lb weight restriction since surgery. At my 3 month follow up appointment I had a couple of x-rays taken in maximal extension and flexion to see how the fusion was progressing. everything is going well on that part. because that was going well, I was cleared to return to work without restrictions. After this point, I spent a lot of time working on re-strengthening my arm and working on my balance. Also by this point my pain levels were much better, and I was able to return to classes for the Spring semester of 2017 which began in January.
At the 6 month follow up I was continuing to do better, having less and less pain and increased strength. Likewise, at the 12 month post op follow up in November 2017 things were going quite well and I was discharged from the care of the neurosurgeon for this surgery. I still have some pain intermittently at 1.5 years out from surgery, especially if I neglect my posture which I manage with over the counter Tylenol or Aleve. All-in-all, I am doing very well all things considered. 


Community Champion Frank Dutton shares his top fundraising tips

As a Myelopathy.org Community Champion, I had the honour of holding the charity’s first fundraiser at my local football club.

PictureCommunity Champion Frank Dutton

Myelopathy.org and Myelopathy Support on Facebook have been a great help for both me and my wife since my diagnosis in 2016. Since then, life has been difficult to say the least. Cervical myelopathy, and the accidents it has caused, have led to me going under the knife for no less than six major surgeries. These have significantly affected my body and its ability to cope with everyday life.

I created a ‘lucky numbers’ board featuring 1-100. I then made a list of those numbers with spaces next to them for people to write down their names and telephone numbers. It cost £1 per number and I decided on a winning pay-out of £25 which, if all the numbers had been taken, would deliver a tidy profit of £75 for Myelopathy.org. 

I set my table up in the club room. I took along some laminated photos of people’s CT scans, including my own, as visual aids. I also made copies of one of the charity’s media releases about the condition and the need for early diagnosis, and the basic facts about myelopathy. These are part of the Myelopathy.org fundraising pack. 

It was very interesting to see how people reacted to the photographs and then responded to the information in the leaflets and that I was able to supply about myelopathy. 

The fundraising experience was a positive one and the fact that I was able to raise £71.10 (no idea where the 10p came from) was a bonus. I am now really looking forward to taking part in the next fundraising event. So, if you have any ideas or want to hold a fundraiser yourself, please let me or one of the Myelopathy.org team know.

My top five tips for fundraising.
1) Plan where you want to hold your fundraiser and contact relevant authority/fête organiser/owner etc for permission

2) Share, share, share. Use social media, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram etc, to gain maximum promotion and coverage for your fundraising activity.

3) Make it personal. Tell your own story so that people can understand more about your experiences and your reasons for fundraising. Sometimes that personal touch/story can elicit donations.

4) Remember your inspiration. There’s a reason why you are supporting this cause. Hold on to your inspiration and bring all that enthusiasm to your fundraising activities.

5) Have fun. If you are not enjoying yourself, you will give off all the wrong vibes. So, smile and perhaps rope in a friend or two to help so that you can jolly each other along.


    If you would like to organise your own fundraising even then please leave your details below

Thinking about applying for disability in the USA?

Picture

Here are a few helpful things to get you started. 
Firstly  you need to  go  the Social Security Administration page. You can apply online, or have the forms sent to your home.  

Social Security Benefits (SSI)
As far as Social Security benefits, SSI is a set disability amount which is awarded for those who have not worked enough years or haven’t paid enough social security tax into the system. For example, the maximum amount right now is $750/monthly. SSDI benefits are disability benefits awarded based on wages over the years and paid into Social Security.  You could range anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars monthly. Both benefits are issued through the social security administration. 

You need to be deemed disabled for an expected period of at least 12 months. For disability, benefits, especially SSI, most applicants are denied the first time. That’s typically when one obtains a lawyer to handle the appeal. It just seems to be common practice.  It can take months to finally get approved.  Obviously depending on the level of severity, but  it can take anywhere from 6 months to a little over a year. 

Medical Coverage
As far as medical coverage, there are programs through public welfare and types or medical coverage available associated specifically with disability. One is directly related to SSI recipients, one is disability clients with no income/awaiting benefits, there is one for those who work but fall under certain income limits, one for those receiving SSDI who fall under certain income limits, and for those who receive SSDI and receive Medicare part B through social security – if they make too much to qualify for the welfare medicare, there’s another income limit to see if welfare will at least pay their Medicare B monthly premium amount, so they would at least have that premium amount back in their pockets in the SSDI check.  All of those types of medical are applied for through Dept. Of Human Services /formerly Dept. Of Public welfare. 

Cash Assistance
 If anyone in the US is looking for cash assistance while awaiting disability, they can also apply through Dept Human Services.   For example, the guidelines to qualify for cash assistance benefits is that you have to have care/control of a minor child. So a parent/parents with custody.  The amounts are very low though, right now, if a parent of 2 applies for cash assistance, and has zero income, the maximum grant amount monthly for that 3 person household is only $403. Better than nothing but clearly doesn’t touch the bills. There are job search requirements with this program. But if you are disabled, you have a form completed by your physician and are waived from those requirements. We also have what is called a DAP- Disability Advocate Program, and they can help individuals seeking SSI throughout the process.

Each state has different programs to help the disabled offset costs. 
Some states have fuel assistance. Every year , a household gets a certain amount of money paid to their heat supplier for heating through the winter. 
Most disabled people , if qualified can get SNAP, which is the food stamp program. 

If you’ve got young children under the age of 5 , there is the WIC program which delivers food to low income mothers. 
If you are disabled, and get SSDI, your children get a small disability check also. That lasts until they are 18, or have graduated from high school. 
Most states have food banks, if you need food please use them. 
Churches also have programs for food, the elderly, and the disabled. Ask your pastor for any information or programs that could help your family. 

Helpful links: 
SSA.GOV
 
Disability Benefit Centre 

Information kindly collated and presented by Margot Miller and Melissa Rodriguez 
If you have any relevant information on the benefit  system  for the USA and would like to see it featured please get in touch: info@myelopathy.org 

All this information  is now available at www.myelopathy.org/disability-benefit-advice-usa.html


More to Myelopathy than meets the eye

Picture

By O.Mowforth
Edited by B.Davies

We don’t really know what symptoms a “typical” patient with myelopathy has. 
In fact, the huge number of often quite subtle and non-specific symptoms is probably one of the main reasons why early diagnosis is so challenging (Davies et al., 2018).
 
When medical students prepare for exams they tend to learn stereotypical descriptions of conditions. For myelopathy, this might be a patient with walking problems and clumsy hands.

However, increasingly symptoms that one might never consider could be linked with myelopathy are emerging from the shadows.

Depressed or anxious mood is one such symptom (Stoffman et al., 2005). 
In recent years we have realised that myelopathy patients suffer from high levels of depressed or anxious mood and that this often improves after spinal surgery. But we have had little understanding of why this is the case.

A recent study from Japan has provided a little more insight (Sawada et al., 2018). The Japanese team studied the activity levels of various sites in the brain in myelopathy patients before and after surgery. They also studied individuals without myelopathy as a control group for comparison.
To do this, the team asked participants to do a simple finger-tapping exercise whilst they observed activity levels in the brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

The team found that before surgery individuals in the myelopathy group had a significantly higher activation in an area of the brain called the supplementary motor area compared to individuals in the group without myelopathy.
Next the team found that activation of brain areas, including the anterior cingulate cortex, the supplementary motor area and the thalamus significantly correlated with depression. This meant that the greater a patient’s depression, the greater the activation they had in these brain areas.  
Finally, the team found that both depression and activity in the anterior cingulate cortex and supplementary motor area decreased following surgery for myelopathy. 
Interesting!

The team argue that up to now surgeons have focussed on the “typical” symptoms such as the clumsy hands and walking problems when deciding whether to operate. They believe that their work may lead to future surgical decisions taking more account of the psychological symptoms too!

Davies, B.M., Mowforth, O.D., Smith, E.K., and Kotter, M.R. (2018). Degenerative cervical myelopathy. BMJ 360, k186.
Sawada, M., Nakae, T., Munemitsu, T., and Hojo, M. (2018). Cortical Reorganizations for Recovery from Depressive State After Spinal Decompression Surgery. World Neurosurg. 112, e632–e639.
Stoffman, M.R., Roberts, M.S., and King, J.T. (2005). Cervical spondylotic myelopathy, depression, and anxiety: a cohort analysis of 89 patients. Neurosurgery 57, 307–313; discussion 307-313.


Neck Muscles and CSM/DCM

By Timothy Boerger
Reviewed by B.Davies

Neck Muscles and CSM– An Update Part 1 of 2

Picture


​This will be the first of a 2 part mini-series on the properties of muscles in the neck and how they impacts outcomes of surgery. We previously looked at this following an early piece of research from North America.  This series will serve as an update on this research. 


Why was this study conducted?

As outlined previously, the amount of fat found within muscles has been linked to the type of symptoms experienced by patients; including the amount of neck pain and walking ability. This new study was done on a separate cohort of patients than the previous study and included measures of neck strength and other quality of life scales not assessed previously which addresses some weaknesses of the previous study.

How was the study conducted?
This study used MRI imaging to measure the size and the amount of fat in muscles in the neck. Neck strength was measured by clinicians using a hand held force sensor. Several questionnaires were performed to assess function, pain, and quality of life. Importantly, this study used what is called a “cross-sectional’ design meaning it only looks at 1 time point. 

What was discovered?
Larger muscles and larger amounts of lean muscle (i.e. muscle without fat) in the neck were associated with increased strength. (We already knew this in general, but it is good to ensure there isn’t something different about patients with cervical myelopathy). More fat in muscles of the neck was associated with more disability measured by the mJOA. Importantly, neither strength, muscle size, or muscle fat were associated with pain, duration of symptoms, neck disability index, or quality of life in this study.

Why is this important?
Between the previous study linked above and this study, it appears that muscle fat may be a biomarker of disability and function in patients with myelopathy.  Currently there are no biomarkers for myelopathy, which makes it difficult to assess how severe it is or give an idea of how things will develop.  More research will be needed to investigate the usefulness of muscle fat as a biomarker, but given that it can be quantified based on existing widely avaliable imaging techniques, it could enter routine clinical practice quickly.
 

Why could muscle fat relate to the severity of myelopathy?
One reason this is being investigated is that fat infiltrates muscle as a response to nerve injury and disuse. For example, if a nerve is injured the nerve doesn’t tell the muscle to contract as much and it allows more fat to become deposited within the muscle itself. 
    

References

  1. Fortin M et al. Relationship Between Cervical Muscle Morphology Evaluated By MRI, Cervical Muscle Strength And Functional Outcomes In Patients With

Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy. Musculoskeletal Science and Practice. 38; epub 2018: 1-7 

  1. Fortin M, et al. Association Between Paraspinal Muscle Morphology, Clinical Symptoms and Functional Status in Patients With Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy. Spine (PhilaPa 1976). 2016 May 23

My Island

Picture

BY Alison Murphy  MY…Hell…opathy Laughing & living with Cervical Myelopathy

Yesterday, my husband dropped me off at the swimming baths.  The large float around my waist and my cycling style of swimming does raise a smile or two. Some call me a ninja turtle, some the barnacle woman.  Today my predicament was in the changing room.  With my combination lock.  I tried it, retried it, again and again to no avail.  It wasn’t the wrong combination; it’s my date of birth but the lock is old and sometimes you have to press it together for it to open.  I could see my issue was attracting the attention of others. So in my swimming costume, dripping, I went to reception.  A female employee, with bolt cutters came to my rescue.  She struggled a little until suddenly the lock exploded apart.I opened the locker.  Opps.  Someone else’s clothes.  I used the ‘f’ word; it was called for.The leisure centre girl was laughing. The audience of women changing was lapping it up.  I said this has probably happened to other people.  No, she said.  What an idiot.

​My locker was only three doors away and I didn’t even think to try it.  I was resolutely sure that the locker was mine.  I felt so sorry for whoever’s locker it was.  They came to the leisure centre to work out and relax.  I had to lock their locker with my lock.  I left an apologetic note on their door telling them the combination was at reception.  Then I went for a cappuccino.  With myelopathy you have to let these things wash over you.

​I’ve been a little Norman Bates lately; stable one day, struggling with my myelopathy persona the next but I’m quite proud of myself.  I’ve reached out to people to try to reconnect and everyone’s been so generous with their time and considerate of my condition. I’ve been going to events and sometimes only staying an hour; but enjoying that hour.I went to a lovely patisserie for coffee and cake this week but told Diane I could only stay an hour because I can’t stand independently, or straighten, if I sit over the hour. Also I’m learning how to be a bit precious. My husband calls me the princess and the pea because everything has to be just so.  If a chair is too soft my back spasms, if my shoe laces are too tight I can’t put shoes on, if my teacup is too full I can’t lift it, if there is spice in my food I get IBS.  I went from being totally laid back, able to eat street food cooked by greasy haired, uncompliant to hygiene standards, cooks to being very needy.  I don’t beat myself up about it.  I’m not elderly or frail or sick but titanium is holding my neck together and if I’m not careful my cervical spine might topple like Jenga bricks again.  So, when I’m chatting I need my friend opposite me, not beside.  I can get in a car, but I can’t get out without help.  I need to be front of the loo queue because I can’t hold it. If we can’t be fussy now, when can we?


Picture

When the kids were little I would make up silly songs randomly about their activities and personalities.  I’d wake them up with a song, tuck them in with a song.  For a couple of years myelopathy stole my voice.  It truly is a challenging condition.  I wake up and feel how I image the wolf did in Red Riding Hood when his stomach was filled with stone.  My body is so uncomfortably heavy, my bones hurt, my head is constantly under a vice like pressure…and that’s at the start of the day!  Understanding cervical myelopathy has been an uphill struggle, health professionals are not up to speed with a condition whose numbers are constantly rising.   When my daughter was little she was given many Barbies and the first thing she’d do is cut Barbie’s hair off. Grace, I’d say, it won’t grow back, once it’s cut, it’s cut and that’s like the spinal cord, damage is unrepairable – for now anyway.  It’s through contact with fellow suffers at www.facebook.com/groups/myelopathy.support that has me bursting into song again.  Knowing that I haven’t got some one-off, obscure condition, that I’m not alone, is a huge deal.

My youngest daughter was eighteen yesterday.  When I think of Caitlan it’s like my heart bursts like a popping champagne bottle.  She was ten when I was first admitted to hospital with what doctors thought was a stroke. We’re throwing her a party.  If I thought too much about the organisation I’d feel overwhelmed.  I’ve called it a casual gathering, that way expectations aren’t so high.  I think if you have alcohol and food a party will run itself.  My brother and his family are over from Kilkenny, Caitlan’s godparents from Dublin, I can’t wait.  Having something to look forward to is paramount.  I look forward to coffee with my husband, I love going to M&S Food Hall, I have book club, I love Grace coming home for the weekend.  My four children are the painkiller that get my weak body out of bed.  They are the smile on my face.  They understand my condition better than neurologists, they live with my highs and lows and they pick me up.

I am happy.   It’s a glorious feeling.  Once I get going I feel my life is full of possibility even though by four I will be totally slayed with pain and tiredness, my limbs will be unresponsive, and I will sway around the house, everything falling from my grip…I’ll end up in bed for a few hours but at nine I will be enjoying Love Island with my family. If I think of 2018 so far I’ve been part of a training video to help doctors diagnose myelopathy earlier, I’ve been skyped (never skyped before) by Dr Nidhi who is gathering info to support early diagnosis.  I’ve enjoyed two book club gatherings.  Met Sharon for a pub lunch.  Gone for innumerable coffees and cake and have the calories to prove it.

Caitlan recently returned from a geography trip to Iceland.  Putting on her crampons, about to step foot on a glacier she thought of me.  My mum will never do this, she’ll never see this powerful landscape with winds that take your breath away.   It’s true.  But it’s ok.  I’ve come a long way since my dramatic arrival at A&E.  I’m walking.  I’m sleeping.  I’m managing my pain.  I’m with my family.  I think of my life like Bear Grylls’ The Island.  Myelopathy is my island.  I’m not a giver upper and I’ve learnt to enjoy simple things.
Right now I’m sitting by the window, the sun is shining, a squirrel has just run the gauntlet across my garden fence while my two dogs are going bonkers.  Spanish rap is playing. I’m glad to be alive; the alternative is an eternity I’d like to avoid.  I’ve come to not expect too much of myself.  Myelopathy is the long game.

You can check out Alison’s blog My Hell opathy here