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Jeruba's avatar

What kind of back pain am I describing?

Asked by Jeruba (52022points) October 10th, 2011

Like others, I know enough to go to the doctor and not rely on flutherfolk for medical advice. But first I’d like to know if this fits a known pattern of some sort.

Two episodes, different from anything I’ve ever had before. Lots of prior lumbar pain and chronic cervical, but nothing like this. Same profile both times:

•  Locus in the thoracic region; consulting a chart, I’m guessing about T6 – T8.

•  Onset about 6 hours following relatively strenuous physical activity—i.e., strenuous for me: packing and loading up for a week away in a housekeeping cottage, unpacking and setting up, including lots of bending over, carrying boxes, bags, etc.; and then, a week later, packing up, coming home, and unpacking. (I’ve done this many times before; this was first time for this pain.)

•  Onset about 9 p.m.; spasms lasted 12 hours.

•  Spasms of pain in thoracic region: sudden full wave of severe pain, broad and wide, like sheet lightning. Can’t tell if it is muscle, bone, nerve, or please, not that, please organ.

•  Frequency of spasms: intervals range from about 5 or 6 seconds to 25 seconds, but the most common interval—more than half of those we timed—is 19 seconds.

•  Every spasm compels sudden movement; can’t sit/stand/lie still and take it. Must shift position reflexively. Every ~19 seconds.

•  No comfortable position, no position gives relief—not sitting, standing, lying down, bending over, bending backward, leaning to either side, or hanging from a support above.

•  Much swearing, much whimpering. (REM to self: learn some new swear words.)

•  Ibuprofen (3) did not seem to do anything.

•  In between spasms, feel mostly normal, though the area remains “hot”—as if lit up.

•  Eventually, heat (lying on heating pad) seemed to help a little.

•  Pain is asymmetrical. It feels symmetrical, but it was possible to lie on one side and not on the other.

•  After about 5 hours I was able to force myself to try to relax into it instead of bucking against it (thank you, zen and yoga), and that helped a little.

•  Tylenol 3, with codeine (2), eventually enabled me to sleep.

•  Spasms abated after about 12 hours. Abnormal pain (as opposed to ordinary everyday pain in cervical and lumbar areas) lasted another 12. After two days, felt “okay.”

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9 Answers

marinelife's avatar

It sounds awful. I’m sorry that I have no help, but it seems as if the doctor is the answer (or a chiropractor).

Lightlyseared's avatar

So if I was you I’d be getting that organ checked out. I’m not saying it is from there but pain from that organ has a tendancy to present in non typical ways in women and it is kind of in the right area and anything in that area it’s the first thing you should get looked at.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I have a recently diagnosed bulging disk that does all that when it’s irritated. Have you had a recent MRI to show any changes to previous damage or new?

Jeruba's avatar

@Neizvestnaya, waves of pain in sheets at regular intervals? Really? No, my last MRI was 2 or 3 years ago. Hmm.

dreamwolf's avatar

sounds like something Tracy McGrady of the NBA went through. Possible inflamation of the vertebrae as well

Neizvestnaya's avatar

@Jeruba: My deductible was just under $500. but the relief of the MRI to show what was going on was worth it. I’d been thinking it was a rupture or something for the amount of pain that would come on. Like you describe, when it flares then I can find no comfortable way to be aside from a whimpering pain in the butt.

I have a clay-stuff pack I can microwave or or heat- heat works well with Benadryl and some hooch to put me to sleep.

Jeruba's avatar

I’m going to the doc tomorrow. I just made the appointment. I’m a big fan of judicious applications of denial (repeat every 4 to 6 hours as needed), but there are times when it just won’t suffice.

@Neizvestnaya, hooch was pretty tempting too, but I didn’t want to do anything that would prevent me from taking strong meds.

gailcalled's avatar

Keep us posted.

Overuse of muscles and soft tissues, as one i(forgive the word, please) ages, can bring on horrible pain and spasms.

My distress is always in L4— L5 and caused by a scoliosis that puts uneven force and torque on muscles and ligaments.

Three days of complete bed rest, except for creeping to bathroom, heating pad off and on as tolerated, and ibuprofen.

Then trip to PCP for x-ray and further diagnosis, treatment and recommendation. Best suggestion would be a first-rate PT for training in safe movement for chores of daily life and then appropriate strengthening and stretching exercises.

I don’t put on a pair of sneakers without being mindful. (Occasionally I wear an OTC elastic back support or a serious RX corset.)

I watch my posture, hold my abdomen in whenever possible, use a pillow while driving, choose and sit in chairs that suit my back, sleep on a hard mattress on my side with a pillow between my legs and exercise judiciously. I cheat and skip perhaps one day a month or this week due to flu. But I got back on the horse last night, in a sweaty set of floor exercises and the treadmill.

I have spent decades figuring out my personalized routine. Do not despair, although I know you feel like it.

Jeruba's avatar

The doctor said this:

•  The symptoms I listed were a classic description of muscle spasms.
•  Muscle spasms like that can be brought on by excess physical strain.
•  The intervals are not significant.
•  It doesn’t matter that I never had them before. I have them now.
•  Heat can relieve them. Soaking in a hot bath would have been a good treatment.
•  Stretching and rotating can help.
•  Avoid strain, and no lifting for 3 or 4 days.
•  Carry things close to body, and use wheels whenever possible.
•  In future it would be good to warm up first with some stretching.

In other words: whatever I did, that’s what I did, and don’t do it again.

Everything feels ok now, but I am still being cautious.

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