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CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez Explains His Surgery To Relieve Neck Problems

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- CBS 2's Dr. Max Gomez recently underwent surgery to relieve severe neck pain from which you may suffer as well.

CBS 2's cameras were inside the operating room, and Dr. Gomez explained that the surgery may work for you, but it also may not.

Dr. Gomez developed pain near the base of his neck on the right side about a year ago. But lately, he had noticed that his right arm and shoulder were a little weaker than his left when he worked out.

Later on, he started getting pins and needles shooting down his right arm. He was pretty sure about what it all meant.

"It seems that the pain is caused by the nerve compression in your case. It parallels the muscle weakness, and the pins and needles are also directly sensory nerve compressions, so the signals are not getting back or interrupted," explained Dr. Ronald Moskovich of the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases.

In plain English, something was compressing or pinching the nerves to Dr. Gomez's neck and arm as they exited his spinal column. Three-dimensional reconstructions of CT and MRI scans showed the problem.

"The bone from these joints have grown in, and has pinched down, narrowed down these openings," Moskovich said.

The 3D model showed the enlarged, arthritic joints on the upper level of Dr. Gomez's cervical, or neck, spine. What should be a nice, wide-open canal – or foramen – for nerves to pass, was filled with bone spurs.

Moskovich, Dr. Gomez's longtime spine surgeon, explained the problem would not get better on its own.

"If you don't do anything and it goes for long enough, those nerves may become more permanently damaged," Moskovick said. "So the symptoms may, to some degree, improve in terms of pins and needles. However, the muscle strength is unlikely to get better spontaneously."

That was how Dr. Gomez found himself in holding at the NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases – meeting with the anesthesiologist, having nurses take his vitals, having Dr. Moskovich sign the side of his neck he planned to operate on, and finally putting him to sleep face down.

The 3-inch incision on the back of Dr. Gomez's neck allowed Moskovich to use a microscope to carefully grind and snip away at tiny bits of bone to give the arm nerves room to function normally.

That was a week ago Thursday. The two days were painful for Dr. Gomez because the muscles were in spasm.

Dr. Gomez still wears a foam collar most of the day, but has only taken Ibuprofen since Sunday and a muscle relaxant to sleep at night.

His neck was stiff eight days later, but the arm pain was gone, and the weakness was improving.

Dr. Gomez emphasized that surgery is not a one-size-fits-all solution for neck pain. Physical therapy, neck exercises, correcting sleep and work station positions, and avoiding craning the neck while using smartphones is the answer in most cases.

But if you start to develop pain, pins and needles, numbness, and weakness in the arm or hand, or if you start dropping things or develop bowel or bladder problems, it could be serious nerve or spinal cord issues and seeing a specialist is recommended.

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