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Degenerative Disc Disease

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  • Degenerative Disc Disease

    I was recently diagnosed with DDD at C5-C6. There is apparently pinching on nerves and I have tingling, numbness, and loss of strength in my right hand. This is mostly affecting my ring and little finger. It has messed up my timing and doublings the most.

    Has anyone else experienced DDD in their neck? Do I have a chance to recover control of my hand?


    “For some the Highland pipe is a serious instrument, to be played with skill and care and to consume a lifetime in its study ... but to me, it’s even more important than that - it is life itself.” PM Bruce Campbell

  • #2
    Re: Degenerative Disc Desease

    Hello Karl!

    I have a severe case of DDD throughout my entire spine. Almost 23 years in active special operations and the associated parachuting obviously has done nothing to help my piping either.

    I have a lot of pain from stenosis, spondylosis, and scoliosis. The narrowings in the neck are indeed, as you may imagine are the worst! I have all the symptoms you have. My top issues start at the C3 and go through the C5/6 as well.

    I was injured in service, and after bilateral shoulder surgery and showing no progress in range of motion, I was sent to a rheumatologist, and after head to toe scans and x-rays, I found out about all of my issues. After 9 major surgeries and three years of physical therapy, the Army Medical Board sent me retirement orders, I was retired on 1 October 2013.

    To try to keep this short, I returned to piping out of passion for piping, and as therapy. I started competing again in 2012. In 2014 (if memory serves me), I was moved up to Grade 3. Out of respect for my piping instructor's privacy, I will not name him, but he is one of the top 10 in the World, and competes in the Glenfiddich. He has encouraged me to continue tuition and to work hard and believes that even in my "advanced age", it is realistic to believe (if I put in the hard work), that I can become a Grade 1 piper.

    I have a lot of severe symptoms and days of major pain. There are times when I have had to put down my pipes for a couple of weeks at a time, but I go back! I have bone on bone issues and pinched nerves. On really bad days, my neck muscles seize as well, spasming and causes excruciating neck pain which radiates through the shoulders and down the arms to the fingers.

    Obviously, not knowing your condition, only you can really know what your limitations are. Piping is life for me.

    It is a true love - hate relationship though, because I too have problems with my hands and fingers doing things all at the wrong time! Doublings can become scrambled eggs at times as well.

    Anything can happen, and when least expected, such as in competition last weekend. Tuning went great, played through my tunes before reporting at each station, and felt really great. No nerves. On the music and Confident. Then, I started. Out of no where, my fingers decided to twitch and nerves slam me with what felt like a dirk going in to the rear corner of my neck! Needless to say, it didn't turn out well. I stayed in the competition though, and did not stop until I finished the tunes. I had really positive comments from the judges, and some comments which I knew where going to come as well. Then the one which felt really "great" - "to many misses, below grade level." It hurt! In another competition though, even with my issues, I was able to play well enough for a 3rd in the Piobaireachd. So some mixed results.

    Playing in a band is unfortunately no longer an option for me. The time it takes to get a whole band tuned, is too much for me. By the time the pipe major gets everyone sorted, my pipes start to feel as though they weigh 500 pounds, combined with neuro-muscular issues, and it is not fun. I was in the fetal position for hours after returning home from a day in solo and band competition. Thankfully, solo competitions are still possible for me.

    Bottomline, I know what to expect with my injuries - expect anything. DDD is no fun. I am now piping with 10 bulging discs to boot. I continue because I know what I would be capable of doing if I did not have the injuries and DDD. Piping fills my heart, and stirs the blood.

    I am not going to let DDD stop me from at least giving my best effort. I have just leaned to live with it and be confident and know what I am capable of, and remember, the crit sheet is a snapshot of some 1 to x number of minutes I stood in front of a person with a clipboard. It is not my full piping "career" or my actual capability to play at the level my instructor judges me that I am playing at.

    You will have good days with your symptoms, and you will have challenging days. For me, temperature definitely affects things as well.

    Will it get better? Given my personal experience and knowledge, for me - No - I will not get better.

    You may have a different experience. I pray you do.

    After all though, "degenerative" is what it will continue to grow worse.

    DDD and my injuries have definitely made me a more humble person than I was prior to my current condition. My special operations team mates are always asking, "What? Where is Master Sergeant Williams, what have you done to him?!"

    If piping brings you joy, and is meaningful to you, don't let your condition get to you either.

    I use anything I can to help to try to keep the pain in check, and keep my fingers moving. I use a paraffin wax bath to help keep my wrists and fingers stretched and flexible. I also have a Tens / IR unit which my doctor gave me a prescription for, which I use often, with multiple batteries, to keep pain in check on the worst of days. A whole lot of stretching fills my days, especially when I am preparing for competition!

    When I have good days though, they are good and they help me get through to the next good day.

    Besides, I know if I stopped piping, I would hate it! I may or may not make it to Grade 1. But so long as I can play, and I am making positive progress which is satisfactory to my instructor and my piping does not become a negative reflection on him, I will continue.

    All the best to you!


    • #3
      Re: Degenerative Disc Desease

      For the past few years I've been watching the Youtube videos of this Houston chiropractor who has become an internet celebrity by posting (with their permission) somewhat silly videos of him treating his patients. Despite this, he seems to be genuine and actually help people with severe lumbar issues. The following is him working on someone with DDD:

      I'm posting this with the sincere desire that maybe him or someone like him could be of help with your situation. I've never actually been to see him so I have no personal account of his treatment nor do I have DDD.

      Hoping that whatever you do that you can find relief and keep up with your piping!


      • #4
        Re: Degenerative Disc Desease

        Originally posted by Army.Bagpiper View Post
        Hello Karl!

        I have a severe case of DDD throughout my entire spine. Almost 23 years in active special operations and the associated parachuting obviously has done nothing to help my piping either... SNIP...
        All the best to you!
        I was never in the military but played hard... 15 years as a sport skydiver with over 1500 jumps. I also am passionate about long distance/adventure motorcycle trips. I guess both of these could be factors in the degeneration.

        Thanks for your input, Karl
        “For some the Highland pipe is a serious instrument, to be played with skill and care and to consume a lifetime in its study ... but to me, it’s even more important than that - it is life itself.” PM Bruce Campbell


        • #5
          Re: Degenerative Disc Desease

          Hey, what is the saying, "live hard, play hard" - or something like that?


          • #6
            Re: Degenerative Disc Desease

            Another approach might to contact an osteopathic physician specializing in manipulation. A new school opened in Meridian, ID and has some very competent specialists. There are many forms of treatment that fall into the realm of "manipulation." Releasing fascial tension and restoring best function may improve your situation. PM me if more information is needed. Darrell
            piperdoc - (As long as the moon shall rise; As long as the rivers flow; As long as the sun will shine; As long as the grass shall grow, - Peter LaFarge)


            • #7
              Re: Degenerative Disc Desease

              Sorry to hear about your condition.
              Thank you for your service!!!!


              • #8
                Re: Degenerative Disc Desease

                To North Idaho, Karl, (and Army Bagpiper) (my neck brothers)
                I can totally relate and empathize with your situation(s), as well as everyone elses neck situation on the posts. Ive been playing on and off for about 20 years. Im 58. I started a bit late. I play with the Washington Scottish Pipe Band in DC (St. Andrews Society P&D) , serving as a pipe corporal. I've played solos, and Piobaireachd, and competed a few times. Since the band is somewhat demanding as a performance band for the St.Andrews Society, we haven't competed as a band since the 70's or 80's. I have attended the NAAPD consistently for many years, and like Army piper, I also have an online instructor who plays in the Glenfiddich.
                I seriously think we need a special group for our issues; since the neck nerves control the arms and fingers, and require careful bagpipe set-ups, bags, adjustable blow sticks, etc.
                Neck issues are a very big deal, and literally can make you break you. I have had several neck surgeries since 2009. I have had, or currently have (to some degree) all the pain issues that come with DDD, Spondylosis, (and a few other related conditions), facet joint arthritis, and now into the thoracic levels to name a few.
                My surgeries were ACDF on C5-6-7(2009), then pseudarthrosis on c6-7 Redo with corpectomy and cage (2013), and then a complete redo in 2017. Ive had chronic pain for many years form this.
                I love piping. These issues have halted my piping several times, and somehow, I keep trying to restart it. I love it, and I'm good at it, so It's like a calling that just says keep on trucking. On rainy cold days; I cant play from the pain. Marching is now very limited because of the vertical stress on fused c7-t1 Other times, I can do it, and it's great to have a good piping day. I'm currently working on about 3 Piobaireachd. I can play M-S-R, but I have "reel" trouble on the faster stuff because of the left side, and the nerves that travel down between the 3-4 digits. I guess all I could say is, never give up, develop the situation, and don't get treed by a chihuahua. We have a lot left to give, and play, and we need to keep it going until it's impossible.
                Last edited by Hawkpiper; 03-19-2019, 02:19 PM. Reason: added person


                • #9
                  This is an older thread, but still've got my 100% support!!!