back pain, is it the coughing?
January 29, 2009 7:10 AM   Subscribe

Help me with my back pain, maybe it's the coughing?

Hey all, I've never had any back pain to speak of. 28 YO, in good health, regular exercise, six feet tall, was about 165 when i ran my first marathon back in October, hovering at 175 now.

For the past few weeks I've had an ache in my lower, lower back just on the right side. Frequently it also seems to hurt in my upper butt area too, essentially feeling like it has moved lower, before moving upward again. When I have tried to run, it will hurt when i put weight down on my leg as the leg comes down and hits the ground. It also sometimes has a faint dull ache.

It doesn't hurt if i move around, touch my toes, wrestle with my dog etc. Really when i put weight on my leg.

I didn't fall, lift a piano or do anything else that I know of to get this started.

What i have had though is a bad cold for weeks with a lot of coughing and hacking, sometimes very hard coughing. This pain hurts most of all when I cough.

Is it possible that this pain is somehow associated with the coughing? Like I pulled a muscle or compressed a disk or something?

I really want to get back to running again!!!!

I don't want chronic back pain!!!!!

Help me better understand what this could be. I have to go see the doc in a couple of weeks for a meds refill for something else, and so will talk to him about it then if it has continued.
posted by Salvatorparadise to Health & Fitness (17 answers total)
It is indeed possible to throw your back out just by coughing hard enough. An actor working on a show I worked with actually managed to do that, poor guy.

You're a runner, so I'm assuming you can tell what a muscle ache feels like as opposed to any other kind of ache; does this feel like a muscle thing? If so, and it's just an ache, then just rest a day or two and then starting gentle stretching should help a lot, along with anti-inflammatory painkillers. If it doesn't quite feel like a muscle ache, though, it could be other things -- nerve pain is different from muscle pain is different from organ pain is different from...

But yeah, it's very possible to pull a muscle just from coughing or sneezing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:27 AM on January 29, 2009

It sounds like sciatica, which is a pretty common problem, and may have been caused by your coughing, but can also be the result of lifting something or sitting incorrectly. A nerve is being pinched, most likely because of muscle tension or lack thereof. Stress can also cause, as can being physically run down (thanks to your cold).

I'd be curious to hear what your doctor says, but for me back problems have always been cured (and prevented) by swimming laps. It takes about two sessions in the pool, and my back recovers. And I haven't had back pain in years and years.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:30 AM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had this exact kind of pain until I stopped carrying a messenger bag. YMMV. Of course, hard coughing can also cause all sorts of pain, or make it worse.
posted by cobaltnine at 7:41 AM on January 29, 2009

IANAD, but I've heard a lot of back pain, especially in that area, can be related to kidney issues.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 8:11 AM on January 29, 2009

I've been sick with a flu or something which turned into a lingering cough, for weeks... similarly. I have the exact same lower back pain, particularly when coughing.

I have just gotten back to the gym to start training again, and I think my cough is finally trailing off. The back pain is better than it was at peak, but not quite gone yet.

I'd say wait a week or two, see if the cough subsides, and with it the back pain.
posted by gomess at 8:28 AM on January 29, 2009

Response by poster: indeed, thanks everyone

for now i'll have the fiance continue her daily back rubs with icy hot
posted by Salvatorparadise at 8:29 AM on January 29, 2009

This sounds like a possible disc problem. The telltale signs are radiating pain in the upper buttock and pain on coughing. No harm in waiting a few weeks to see if it goes away, but if not, you will want to get an MRI. In the meantime, gentle walking (no running) will help to sort things out.
posted by HotToddy at 8:39 AM on January 29, 2009

Keep up the massages, hot bath might help, try stretching your hamstrings (upright, with one leg up on a chair/table/bar, nearly straight with slight knee bend, push your heel against the chair, pull toes towards you (with your toe muscles, not your hands) OR on your back on the floor, one leg either side of a door, pur back of heel against door edge and push both sides twice, hold each stretch for 30 seconds.
posted by biffa at 8:44 AM on January 29, 2009

Your doctor will order scans to verify what's going on down there, but what you describe sounds like sciatica as I experienced it in its early stages. For me, the pain intensified when I coughed or sneezed (or vomited, for that matter, over one awful weekend).

That kind of pain is a common symptom of a herniated disc. In fact, whether you have pain when coughing or sneezing is one of the first questions they ask you when you seek help for back pain. In my case I had a herniated disc that ultimately required surgery.

Opinions on how to best treat back pain vary immensely from doctor to doctor and from person to person, but until you see a doctor, I strongly urge you not to engage in any arduous activities, even swimming. The best course of action is to avoid traumatizing that area until you are sure what is going on.

In my case I might have been able to avoid surgery had I sought treatment sooner. When I did seek medical attention, my doctor at a top-flight hospital prescribed heavy exercise, wholly unsuited to the severity of my injury. I now live with chronic pain.

If I could do it all over, I would have sought a second opinion and consulted a surgeon from the start, regardless of first doctor's recommendations. I can't emphasize how important it is to get a variety of expert input on back pain which is real but notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat. The more input you have, the better able you will be to make the right decisions.

If you are in the Philadelphia area, memail me for recommendations of doctors and physical therapists, both good and bad.
posted by vincele at 8:49 AM on January 29, 2009

Response by poster: i'm in central ohio, but thanks for that other advise

i will be taking it easy until i get to the bottom of it, and will call my doc today to get the ball rolling sooner
posted by Salvatorparadise at 9:00 AM on January 29, 2009

I was having back trouble until I realized my chair at work was slightly cocked to one side and I had to twist around to see the monitor. Got a new chair, rearranged my desk and it cleared right up. I've heard of other people having trouble because they keep a fat wallet in their back pocket.
posted by electroboy at 9:22 AM on January 29, 2009

Given the amount of time you have had the pain and the radiating nature it sounds like a disc issue. Most of the pain will actually be in the muscles as they spasm to protect the disc. Massages will help with that pain but will not address the underlying disc issue. I recommend that you get a copy of Treat Your Own Back. It will teach you about back pain and how to treat and prevent it in the future. It comes highly recommended by my physical therapist. You can right away start doing some press-ups which often help to realign a bulging disc. You lay prone and position your arms as if to perform a push-up. Keeping your hips on the ground gently press yourself up, arching your back backwards. Stop when you feel it in your back and then gently let yourself back down. Repeat a half dozen or so times and then roll onto your side and stand up (this method of getting up is easier on your back). Long term you will want to keep your abdominal muscles toned and learn how to move so as to not put stress on your back.
posted by caddis at 9:25 AM on January 29, 2009

Response by poster: thanks caddis, so that's sort of like a sun salutation then? not that i'm a yoga doer
posted by Salvatorparadise at 9:27 AM on January 29, 2009

Mod note: a few comments removed - derails about what does NOT cause back pain pretty much need to go away.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:54 AM on January 29, 2009

It could be costochondritis. I developed it after an ongoing, nasty chest cold. It sounds bad, but basically it's just an inflammation of the lining between the ribs or around the chest cavity from coughing so much. I had severe pain in my ribs, but also in my lower back, to the point that I thought I had broken something, and it was difficult to lie down. Not much they can do for you except for antiinflammatories and cough medicine.
posted by lunalaguna at 11:00 AM on January 29, 2009

When you see your doctor, you might want to ask about Tessalon. It's a little wonder drug that seemingly works by relaxing the muscles in your lungs, reducing your reflex to cough. It's also not addictive and doesn't make you drowsy/dizzy like other cough medicines. It doesn't seem like a lot of people have heard of it, but it's pretty impressive stuff. It was a lifesaver when one of my family members broke a rib from a horrid cough a few years back.
posted by zachlipton at 11:42 AM on January 29, 2009

Since it's been going on a few weeks, this is probably not the case, but:
My husband got a pain in his back/side once, that felt like a pulled muscle. The pain got really bad, though. He went to the doctor several days later, and it turned out that he had a pulmonary embolism.

The moral of the story is: if it starts to hurt bad enough that you can't sleep, go to the emergency room.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:03 PM on January 29, 2009

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