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March 27, 2011 3:18 PM   Subscribe

Chronic low-level lower back pain? Short-term solutions?

I have low-level lower back pain. Just enough to make me aware that I have a lower back and that it hurts. I have trouble bending over and it makes my life annoying. Most of the things I want to do require that I be able to bend and lift. I have mentioned this to my doctor, who's reaction is usually, "Meh, you are getting old, do some crunches."

I am 53 and normal weight. I know about long term solutions (I am planning on yoga), but I want to do/take something NOW to stop the pain. I think the pain is from compressed vertebrae and/or arthritis. I have some other major joint issues (really bad knees compounded by bone deforming arthritis, overly double jointed all over). Last week I had a shooting pain in my hip (which I also get frequently). When I was a teenager I used to get excruciating sciatic nerve pain, going from my shoulder to my foot. In the past, I spend years of my lift ballet dancing and weightlifting, which has compounded the joint issues.

I take 440 mg of naproxen sodium everyday (since I like to be able to bend my knees). I also take acetaminophen and ibuprofen daily at night.

So anyone have any ideas as to what OTC drug I should take to alleviate the back pain? I really don't want to lie around and mope, which is what I have been doing. If I go to the doctor, what should I ask for?
posted by wandering_not_lost to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Massage, the roughest tui-na you can get. The massage must be painful; if it is, you'll feel much better in a few days.
posted by orthogonality at 3:25 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go to an orthopedist. Since you're not in screaming pain, you will probably be prescribed physical therapy. This is a good thing, since "meh, crunches" don't really work all the muscles you need to stabilize and protect your spine. Do your physical therapy.

In the short term, don't take ibuprofen or aspirin on top of the naproxen. Tylenol is okay--do your liver a favor and don't exceed the recommended dosage. Take your pain meds on a schedule and stick to the schedule. Heat or ice, whichever feels better.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:28 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. Get a new doctor. Your current one ignores your symptoms.

2. Heat packs may help with temporary relief - the kind filled with wheat that you can microwave are pretty convenient.

3. Orthogonality is on the money - a good theraputic massage will help greatly.

4. Epsom salt baths will help relax your muscles.

5. You may wish to consider going to see a physiotherapist or chiropractor.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:29 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I find ice (gel packs) rather than heat to be more efficacious for this problem, which I've had for many goddam years.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 3:31 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seconding massage. Have you considered trying another bed? I used to have a similar array of aches until I got another bed. Be very careful if you do yoga, don't push yourself.

I also found that taking a muscle relaxant every now and then when I didn't need to be very functional helped me to unkink and adjust my posture.
posted by mareli at 3:38 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've always been told that an ice pack will reduce the inflammation while heat will make it worse.
posted by Jubey at 4:02 PM on March 27, 2011

You could ask for Tramadol. I take it for my lower back pain (I'm 51, female, normal weight and spend most of my day sitting down.) It works really well for me. Physical therapy also helped strengthen the muscles in that area, which helped a lot, but it won't provide near-immediate relief like Tramadol does.
posted by FormerMermaid at 4:07 PM on March 27, 2011

McKenzie exercises. I learned about them here on AskMetaFilter, and they changed my life.
posted by DrGail at 4:10 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've always been told that an ice pack will reduce the inflammation while heat will make it worse.

Yes. But heat helps relaxed spasmed muscles. The OP did not specify whether he was suffering from inflammation or not.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:25 PM on March 27, 2011

I've had 2 back surgeries in my life and I'm only 30 years old. Funny thing is the surgery was on my upper spine but anytime I have back pain it's in the lower spine. Fortunately my pain isn't too bad. But the one thing that has really been a game changer in my pack pain...the right bed. I used to wake up every morning with lower back pain. I switched to temperpedic about 4 years ago and my life has never been the same since. I wake up in the morning with a pain free back. It's amazing. I'm not a huge fan of drugs. If you need them, by all means take'm but I prefer more natural ways to alleviate the pain. Also...avoid surgery if you can. Unless you have no choice. But no surgery is ever perfect and it can often lead to other problems which can lead to more surgery. Back surgery is no joke. If you do ever have back surgery please do it with a reputable doctor. Do your research. Hope this info helps.
posted by ljs30 at 5:06 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go to a doctor. Chronic pain can indicate serious illness, not just "bad back."
posted by theora55 at 5:12 PM on March 27, 2011

Stretch your glutes and your hamstrings. Stretching your IT band wouldn't hurt either. I'd bet in a few days of gentle stretching 2-3 times a day you'll feel a big difference in how your low back feels. Think about it - you have these huge, strong muscles (hamstrings) pulling down on your pelvis and these small, thin muscles (quadratus lumborum, erector spinae) trying with all their might to keep your pelvis aligned. As a former massage therapist I say stretch your hips, butt and legs and you'll feel much, much better sooner than you think.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:34 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the short term:

* long hot showers

* wheat packs like the medium strap wheat bag here that you can microwave and then tie around your waist, to heat the sore spot even while you're sitting upright, moving around the house, or driving.

* ibuprofen.

* fish oil capsules to reduce inflammation.

Other things that will help:

* swimming

* exercises from a physiotherapist / manipulation by a physiotherapist

* hydrotherapy supervised by a physiotherapist

* walking (strengthens your core abdominal muscles.)

See a Dr to get a referral to a physiotherapist.

According to Arthritis Australia, there is also some evidence of benefit from Devils claw, Cayenne, and Willow bark for back pain.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 5:38 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, magnesium tablets, taken at bed time, can help to relieve back pain that is due to muscle tension / muscle spasms.

(Magnesium is a muscle relaxant.)

Just start off on a low dose, such as 200mg, as high doses can cause diarrhoea.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 5:44 PM on March 27, 2011

Do you crack your back?

I'm much younger than you, but used to have back pain as well. My boyfriend suggested I try not to crack my back for a while, just to see if it would help.

No more back pain. Period.
posted by too bad you're not me at 6:15 PM on March 27, 2011

Be careful with the willow bark that Sockpuppets R Us mentioned--the reason it works is that it contains a metabolite of aspirin, which can cause bleeding (especially from stomach ulcers) and interact with other NSAIDs.
posted by skyl1n3 at 6:17 PM on March 27, 2011

I think the pain is from compressed vertebrae and/or arthritis.

Ok, normally I'd be the first person echoing the heat + massage advice above, but if you might have disc issues, you absolutely don't want people applying pressure until you know you don't have disc issues. Pressure on deteriorating discs is a great way to make them worse.

Get a doctor or a PT who specializes in spine and disc stuff to check you out first. If your vertebral joints are ok, then go ahead with massage. Otherwise, you're going to need a very expert bodyworker who can work with the muscles while stabilizing the joints.
posted by yeloson at 7:36 PM on March 27, 2011

Hi there. Painkillers, massage, heat and ice are okay as short term pain reducers, but they do not solve your problem. See a doctor who doesn't shrug off chronic pain, and get diagnosed. Then get correctly treated.

Please be careful of doing any exercises that have not been prescribed by a doctor or physical therapist who 1. knows what is actually wrong, 2. can identify specific areas that need targeting, and 3. can show you how to do exercises without exacerbating the issue. There are some exercises out there that are traditionally known to strengthen the back, but in fact may put too much strain on a problem back and make things worse.
posted by moira at 7:40 PM on March 27, 2011

(Seriously, your doctor is a dummy if he hasn't looked into this at all.)
posted by moira at 7:42 PM on March 27, 2011

Seconding the McKenzie exercises. Like magic, they are.
posted by fshgrl at 9:56 PM on March 27, 2011

Here's a place to start:
posted by noonknight at 12:10 AM on March 28, 2011

Swimming gives me immediate relief from my chronic back pain. I don't know why or how, but it works. I go for an hour a week and I have no pain. Funnily enough, it works best if I spend most of my time in the leisure pool and not in the lanes. There's something about just being in the water that seems to do the trick, but if I try to swim too hard or too fast I still have pain.

Get cleared for swimming and maybe try that.
posted by Eumachia L F at 1:39 AM on March 28, 2011

When you sit at the computer, sit up straight. Make the font size bigger rather than leaning forward to squint. Have a chair that will support your back when you lean on it. Make sure your keyboard is at the right height so that its not forcing you to slouch forward in order to get your wrists at the right angle to type.

I get lower back pain, and even without changing anything else, its amazing how much difference it makes when I sit up straight at the computer instead of slouching.
posted by talitha_kumi at 5:16 AM on March 28, 2011

I've had back issues from early teen days including scoliosis, meningitis and regular visits to the emergency room on a board. The only solution to pain/discomfort that works immediately and preventatively (!) is walking, especially stair climbing. Discovering this in my 30's changed my life. Swimming is similar but not always practical, especially when traveling.
posted by victors at 10:10 AM on March 28, 2011

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