Got my back?
April 15, 2010 11:19 AM   Subscribe

I just threw my lower back out picking up my baby. Lots of pain in the lower back generally. Didn't hear a just seemed like my muscles seized up suddenly. This has never happened to me before, and need information on what I need to be doing.

Yeah, I know I should go to a doctor, but what kind? Will a GP suffice? I also took a bunch of ibuprofin and am using a heating pad. Anything else?

Should I sit still or try to walk around? I can walk around, but very slowly and only after the agony of getting up.

How long does this usually last? We are going on vacation in a week and I am hoping to be at least semi-mobile. Also, any creative ideas on caring for a non-ambulatory (and heavy) 8 month old that I can't pick up? Mr. Murrey just came home from work to take over for today, we have help tomorrow

God this is ridiculous.
posted by murrey to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The ibuprofin and heat should help.
Expect it to last the better part of the week if you did a true sprain.
A GP might be able to prescribe a muscle relaxant for you (flexeril, it knocks me out) or something better than the ibuprofin.

posted by Drasher at 11:26 AM on April 15, 2010

chronic back pain sufferer here. replace the heating pad with a cold pack. this will help to bring down the inflammation that happens when your back goes out. beyond that, keep up the ibuprofen and see a chiropractor if you're comfortable doing so.
posted by phredgreen at 11:26 AM on April 15, 2010

In my experience all the doctor will do is give you painkillers and muscle relaxers. If ibuprofen isn't helping enough, and you have someone else to watch the child, then yes, go for it. Your GP should be fine.
posted by desjardins at 11:26 AM on April 15, 2010

[sorry, I tried to get cute and put angle brackets...]

#include "stddisclaimer.h"
posted by Drasher at 11:27 AM on April 15, 2010

Second the ice. Also, I need to constantly remind myself to bend with my knees not lower back when picking up things like small children. Elevate you knees when flat on your back.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:35 AM on April 15, 2010

To guard against this sort of thing in the future, yoga is really helpful. Or probably any other form of exercise that works to strengthen your core. I used to have back pain from sitting around all day, every day, and since I've been doing yoga for a year now it has totally gone away.
posted by number9dream at 11:40 AM on April 15, 2010

This happened to me as well, pretty much down to the having to call the spouse home. I stayed on my back for a day and after wards was mobile. I also got one of those back supports that many companies give their employees and wore that for another couple of weeks to protect against further injury. It seemed to help quite a bit.
posted by procrastination at 11:40 AM on April 15, 2010

IANAD, but I am a chronic back pain sufferer. Sounds like a muscle spasm. Nthing the ice, not heat (which can make things worse in the first 24-48 hours). If you can get to your GP, get a prescription for Flexeril, which is a muscle relaxer.
posted by chez shoes at 11:46 AM on April 15, 2010

How old is your bed? My back pain went away completely after we bought a new bed.
posted by CathyG at 11:46 AM on April 15, 2010

You can take an NSAID pain-relief drug (such as ibuprofen) with acetaminophen (Tylenol), as they relieve pain in different ways. When I have thrown my back out I have found the combination to provide much more relief than the NSAID alone. When doing this, rather than ibuprofen, I take naproxen (Aleve). The reason is that you take naproxen every 12 hours and you take Tylenol every 6, which means the doses can be synchronized easily (ibuprofen you take every 4 hours, which doesn't work as well).

After you have recovered, yes, do core-strengthening exercises. It doesn't have to be intense. Shovelglove is easy and quick and has basically eliminated me throwing my back out.
posted by kindall at 11:54 AM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

IANAD, but get a referral to a physical therapist. I've gone through something similar and got out of it without meds beyond OTC pain relievers.

They will be able to evaluate what and where the problem is and give you exercises that can rehab your back into shape and hopefully protect against future injury.
posted by turbodog at 11:58 AM on April 15, 2010

I had the same thing happen to me at about the same time in my child's life, too. I did the cold pack and I did a warm pack and I took pain killers. I didn't pick my kid up for a day or two (bending down and picking up, that is. I did hold him and what not when I would sit and he'd climb in my lap), and I went to a chiropractor. I know MeFis are divided on chiropractors, and I'm not going into that, but I do believe it has helped me with the lower back pain issues that come with having a baby.

Things I do now to avoid the same happening again that you may find helpful:

1. Alter how you pick the baby up. In other words, if you're constantly bending from the waist, and lifting baby as you bend back up, try bending your knees, taking your baby to one side of your body and standing up, supporting baby with your hip. Change this up frequently so the muscles most exerted change. There's any number of ways to pick a baby up, so come up with new ways.

2. Alter how you carry baby. If you find you're carrying baby mostly on your left side, try to carry baby on your right side just as much. If you carry the baby in the front with your arms, try putting the baby on one or the other hip so your hip actually supports baby rather than your arm. And so forth.
posted by zizzle at 12:11 PM on April 15, 2010

About core-strengthening exercises: you might want to learn to squat. Not only is this a great exercise for your core, it also happens to be the correct way to lift things up off the floor... so learning it might help you prevent these kinds of injuries in the future.
posted by vorfeed at 12:14 PM on April 15, 2010

I had a back spasm this winter. My first ever & it was so painful that I had to leave work and lie in the only position that didn't make me gasp. I'm of the firm opinion that 1) body tissue heals fastest at body temperature and 2) anti-inflammatory medicine only treats symptoms & MIGHT delay healing. So, I immobilized it as much as possible and neither iced nor heated it. It took weeks to feel 'normal' & after I felt okay I worked on exercising core muscles to prevent it from happening again. I built up very slowly with simple exercises and stopped whenever I thought I might have a problem. I attribute the spasm to oddness in posture compounded with slight dehydration.

Good luck and remember it WILL get better if you lay off as much as possible & give it time.
posted by Dmenet at 12:20 PM on April 15, 2010

I had my back go for the first time when I was in my early 20s, and have had issues with it on and off since. The first time it happened, I spent a lot of time on my back with a heating pad. I've since realized that was the wrong thing.

1. 600mg of ibuprofen 3x a day for a week for the inflammation (which causes a lot of the pain).
2. Cold pack as often as you can during the first couple days following the injury/reinjury. Start alternating with a heating pad after a few days to help with flexibility.
3. Move as much as you possibly can, otherwise you'll stiffen up, and it just gets worse.

A good massage therapist can also work wonders.

In the longer term, strengthening your core is good, as is being very careful about how you lift, carry things, and sit.

Also, very important, pay close attention to what your back is telling you from here on out. If you've strained it even a little, take it easy and use some ibuprofen and ice it for for a day. I find that being proactive has really helped with avoiding major episodes, inflammation messes things up and increases the chance of further injury.
posted by Good Brain at 12:24 PM on April 15, 2010

I know MeFites are frequently biased about this, but I can't believe no one so far has suggested getting in to see a chiropractor. In my experience, having muscle spasms that severe means that you've gotten out of whack in some way (even if you didn't hear a pop). If you don't already have a chiropractor you trust, ask around for a recommendation and then get in to see him/her. The sooner you get it corrected, the quicker you'll feel better and the less likely it will recur.
posted by DrGail at 12:39 PM on April 15, 2010

I just had a run in with back pain. And here's what I did, and here's what worked.

- Environmental Changes: Any doctor you talk to is going to suggest a new chair, and new shoes, and a new way of sleeping, and suggest exercises and stretches that you need to be doing. When my back pain hit, I did these things first. I stopped wearing my belt (which hit the exact spot that was in pain). I changed my shoes. I started sleeping with a pillow between my knees, or with my knees elevated. I started doing some very basic yoga stretches. I switched my work chair. None of this worked.

- So then you get on to different therapies that you might try. I tried laxatives, hot baths, more yoga, regular walking breaks to get me out of my chair (since sitting was so goddamned painful). The one thing that I didn't try was ice. More on that later.

- When none of those things worked, and when I was still constantly on the verge of tears from the pain, I started taking Aleve in mass quantities. Don't do this. I got an earful from my med student boyfriend about this.

- I don't have insurance. So I called in a couple of free favors. I called a doctor friend of mine and asked her what she thought I should do. I described my symptoms to her and got a quick answer. You should be ready to answer a number of questions. Where does it hurt? What does the pain feel like? Is it dull or stabbing? Is it centered in one place or is it radiating? Do you have any shooting pains? In your abdomen or leg/s? Do you have any other symptoms? How many times have you had a bowel movement in the last three days? Have you had any difficulty urinating?

- Once that was all said and done, my doctor friend suggested what - to me - was the unthinkable: see a chiropractor. I know people have all sorts of success with them for various things, but I just can't help but think they're quacks. The fact that my doctor friend suggested it was immensely helpful in getting over (some of) my preconceived notions about them. I went to see a chiropractor, and it was ultimately a good option for someone without insurance for a back injury or back pain. The reason is that a chiropractor will allow you to pay out of pocket, and will actually do most of the diagnostic things that a doctor will do - including xrays - at a fraction of the out-of-pocket expense. When I got there, we went through the whole same questionnaire that my doctor friend used. And afterward, she ran a urinalysis and did a series of physical tests to determine where the pain was, and what effect it was having on my nerves and/or muscles. The UA came back clear, and the x-rays ruled out a slipped disc or a pinched nerve or whatever else is going on there.

- So that left us with the final question: what next? First, they lay me on a table and massaged my lower back with little electropads and warm towels. It wasn't uncomfortable. Later, she came in and did a very quick and very simple chiropractic adjustment. Crack crack crack. Nothing particularly special. And she sent me home with instructions to ice my back down for the entire weekend. Ice. It was the one therapy I hadn't tried on my own.

In all, the adventure set me back about $300. And while the chiropractor's opinion was not a medical one, strictly speaking, it was at least based on a pretty standard series of questions, and some pretty standard medical technology (urinalysis and xray) which I felt pretty comfortable with, even as a skeptic. The final verdict was that I sprained the joints in my pelvis by coughing when I was sick earlier in the week. And that continuing to ice my lower back, and stretch my hamstrings should yield some good results. And she was right. After two or three days of icing my back and very light stretching, my back was significantly improved. I'm about a week out, and while I'm not up to 100%, I'm feeling a lot better.

Good luck, and get well soon!
posted by greekphilosophy at 1:03 PM on April 15, 2010

Oh, forgot to mention, I also had a deep tissue massage in there before breaking down and seeing the chiropractor. It felt great, in that way that only voluntary torture can feel, but did not help.
posted by greekphilosophy at 1:04 PM on April 15, 2010

If you go to a doc & they prescribe muscle relaxers, see if you can get Flexoril in generic (<$5 for 90) as opposed to Skelaxin, which is stilll under copyright & will cost you a pantload ($80-90 for same), even with insurance
posted by Pressed Rat at 1:15 PM on April 15, 2010

I had 15 years of chronic, recurring back pain following an injury (sciatica attacks every couple of years, of the cane-plus-back-brace-plus-prescription-opiate-painkillers level).

Two years ago, during an immobilizing episode of sciatica following an injury, I started doing the postural alignment exercises in the book Pain Free: A Revolutionary Method for Stopping Chronic Pain by Pete Egoscue. I haven't had an episode of back pain since then. It's non-medical and non-surgical; the exercises are gentle (you won't break a sweat) and take maybe half an hour a day. And it's made such an amazing difference in my life, I have to resist the urge to go up to strangers on the street to say "you look like you're in pain, and I know something that can help!" (because that would be creepy and weird, y'know?) It's wonderful stuff.

Your local library may have a copy, which would let you try it out without incurring any costs. That's how I got started, and how I got myself off the Vicodin and the Tylenol with codeine.
posted by Lexica at 1:39 PM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't want to start an argument, but I have a couple of things to add.

"Lift with your legs, not with your back" is something that gets said a lot, but it doesn't really make sense. Your back is capable of becoming very strong and is able to move loads much heavier than your child, but it's not going to get that way if you avoid lifting anything with it.

For your back to be safe while lifting something, you need to ensure that your lumbar spine (lower back) stays extended during the movement by keeping your spinal erectors contracted. When your spinal erectors contract, your lower back will assume its normal anatomical arch. It will not be "flat" or "straight," nor will it be hyperextended. However, many inflexible people need to think about hyperextending in order to achieve a normal position.

The superman exercise is a good way to learn the way this feels. Performing the valsalva maneuver (holding your breath) while lifting will increase intra-abdominal pressure and help you maintain a rigid spine. Exhaling while lifting puts you at risk for relaxing the spinal erectors, which puts the lumbar spine into flexion and can injure your discs. But there's nothing inherently wrong with bending at the hips and lifting using your glutes and hamstrings.

The most effective way to strengthen all of your trunk musculature is to squat, deadlift, and press with a barbell. Once you've deadlifted more than your bodyweight, which is a very achievable goal for any uninjured person, picking up your child will not present a problem.

In my personal opinion, shovelglove is a waste of time and may well lead to further injury. I would also avoid yoga, as many yoga poses involve hyperextension of the low back. The anatomical role of the lower back is one of stability, not mobility, and that's how you want to train it. A good hard massage may be helpful. Good luck.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:10 PM on April 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have had a number of incidents like yours. My doctor ascribes it to my not bending my knees when picking up objects and/or twisting the torso (sometimes ever so slightly) even in such minor instances as when exiting a car. In some instances the "damage" maybe done the day before the pain appears.

In my experience all the doctor will do is give you painkillers and muscle relaxers.

Again, that's my experience, as well. Most often precribed in my case: the muscle relaxant, Flexeril.
posted by ericb at 3:12 PM on April 15, 2010

Nthing the help a chiropractor can bring, with the proviso to get a recommendation. I've had some pretty MEH chiros that i found out of the phone-book; my current one, found through a friend, is terrific. if you're not used to seeing a chiropractor, it might be hard to tell if that doctor is not doing the trick for you.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 9:04 PM on April 15, 2010

Just want to pipe in: I have a history with back problems (that core exercises have pretty much alleviated), and the one thing the doctor has always said when my back hurts is to not lay down or sit down as much as possible. Stay ambulatory. It'll keep your back looser and heal faster. Alternate ice and hot as well to help with swelling and inflammation. But most importantly, try to be standing all day, if you can.
posted by General Malaise at 7:57 AM on April 16, 2010

Recovering from a similar lower back muscle strain/tear. I was given a can of Deep Freeze Cold Spray with an active ingredient of pentane. Similar might be available down your way. I found it very helpfull in becoming more mobile after having rested up for a day or two.
posted by Dr.Pill at 12:45 PM on April 16, 2010

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