If your summer plans include a little beach reading, you might want to pick up Bruce Springsteen’s recent autobiography, Born to Run. In it, The Boss reveals a number of previously unknown details of his life, including the choice he had to make when faced with chronic numbness from damaged disks in his neck.
The surgery occurred a few years back in 2013, but the story was only recently released of how he began experiencing left-side numbness that was keeping him from playing guitar. Medical tests revealed that the cause was a damaged disk in his neck that would require surgery. The condition, known as cervical stenosis, can be extremely painful. In Springsteen’s case the only answer was an operation that meant his doctors cutting open his throat and tying his vocal cords to the side to make room for disks to replace the ones that were damaged. After the surgery he wasn’t allowed to sing for three months – and there was no guarantee that his signature rasp would be the same.
Cervical stenosis is a condition that happens over a period of years. It is a part of the aging process that is most likely to strike those over the age of 50, and though for Springsteen the symptom was numbness, for others it can be extremely painful.
Cervical stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the upper spine or neck. It’s made worse when the soft cartilage in the neck’s vertebrae gets harder with age. This puts pressure on the spinal cord, causing pain and the potential for the type of nerve impingement that Springsteen endured. It can also lead to weakness in the neck and shoulders, heaviness in the legs, and even problems with balance and coordination. In the most extreme cases, the spinal cord can be damaged and patients can lose control of bowel or bladder function.
Not every patient who has cervical stenosis chooses or needs surgery. For some, epidural shots can do the trick along with non-invasive therapies. In Springsteen’s case, he did what so many others have tried – ignoring the problem and hoping it would go away. “It was just kind of getting worse and worse, but I was still able to get around on the guitar and then, during the end of that was the middle of the Wrecking Ball tour, it simply became too much. I was having a lot of pain in my neck after the show and my arm was going numb and my fingers were going numb and towards the end of the night, it kind of got difficult to play. So I said, “Well, I guess I have to do something about it.’”
As Springsteen relates, his physician referred to the surgery as “kind of an everyday operation,” but he admits that it was a little “anxiety-provoking.” Today he reports that the situation is improved to this day.