Help with back pain
July 19, 2011 7:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm a 25 year old guy and quite tall (6'6). I often sit down for much of the workday. I also bike and walk everywhere (I don't drive). In recent weeks I've been experiencing some back pain. This evening, upon leaving work, I began experiencing the worst sustained back pain I've ever felt. Hard to bend over, painful to walk, or do much of anything. It has been hurting for 3 hours now. I'm going to call the doc tomorrow, but does anyone know of a good mattress to buy for such an ailment? (Mine is awful, sags in the middle, etc.) Or anything else I can do?
posted by LeonBernstein to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I find that laying flat on the floor with my legs bend at the hips and my calves resting on a foot stool really helps. I have been known to take some muscle relaxers and lay like this for hours. As for mattress when we bought ours I said to the sales guy, "Hi what's the most firm mattress you sell?" Then bought that one.
posted by saradarlin at 8:06 PM on July 19, 2011

It sounds like a pinched nerve in your back. Rest, anti-inflammatory medication (like ibuprofen) and ice should hopefully solve the problem. Definitely get a better mattress to avoid this happening again in the future.
posted by msk1985 at 8:07 PM on July 19, 2011

Depends very much on what your doc says, but something that springs to mind immediately is making sure your bike is set up properly so that you're riding with a straight(ish) back. If the frame is too short, or the saddle and bars too close together, you'll be riding with a curved spine, and that's just a recipe for pain. Seek the help of your local bike shop, and get them to look at you on the bike. They should know if things aren't right.
posted by Ahab at 8:09 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't just buy the firmest mattress! That isn't always the solution. Sometimes a mattress that is too firm can make your joints ache or make your back problem worse. I don't know exactly what to recommend, but the bed should be both supportive and comfortable to lay on.
posted by cabingirl at 8:11 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't have any good tips for immediate relief, but medium- and long-term, you should want to do something like jogging to give yourself a core workout. Cycling is wonderful, but does almost nothing to the muscles in your torso. I commute by cycle and sit at work, and I find if I jog/play sports semi-regularly (I'm 27 and 6'2", fwiw) my back is noticeably happier.
posted by lhputtgrass at 8:16 PM on July 19, 2011

My husband is just a little taller than you - 6'8". He experienced problems similar to yours, and this is what he did to alleviate the pain:
1) He ditched an office chair entirely and now sits on a really enormous exercise ball. That right there was huge.
2) Standing while working when he isn't sitting on the ball. He found that our old entertainment center is just the right height for him, so he plops his laptop up there and will work that way for hours on end.

After a few months in this regimen, he is pain free.

A new mattress definitely sounds like a good idea, I would look into other options though. Warm baths, massages, etc. Good luck!
posted by msali at 8:18 PM on July 19, 2011

Go to a mattress store and try out a few of the mattresses. If you're considering getting one, make sure you lie on it for at least 15 min so that you can see how it feels. You don't necessarily want the firmest possible mattress, but you should err on the side of firmness—you can always make the mattress softer later with padding, but you can't make it firmer.
posted by grouse at 8:25 PM on July 19, 2011

In addition to a mattress, consider a boxspring (or at least read up on them). Additionally, it might not be the mattress so much as the bed. When I was in middle school I had chronic back pain - it turned out all the slats in the middle of my bed had broken. Fixing that fixed the problem without a new mattress.
posted by maryr at 8:25 PM on July 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

For a core workout, squats and deadlifts are a much more productive choice than jogging and I recommend them highly. You might even get yourself on a 5x5 program and really see some results!
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 9:22 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the responses. This has been hugely helpful. Earl-- What would a 5x5 program entail exactly?
posted by LeonBernstein at 9:39 PM on July 19, 2011

My sympathies - back pain is brutal.

When you're feeling better I'd suggest getting an exercise ball. I threw my back out a few years ago and found that spending a few minutes every day on the ball helped me strengthen my core to the point that I was no longer worried about my back. (I had shitty posture and worked in terrible cramped positions and had had off-and-on back issue for years.)

I found the most benefit in lying face-up on it, in a backbend pose, and moving in a variety of ways from that position. Modified crunches, various gentle leg movements and general wiggling about. It helped tremendously.

Again, please do this AFTER you heal.
posted by jessicapierce at 9:49 PM on July 19, 2011

I've heard planks are really good for building core strength too.
posted by LeonBernstein at 10:18 PM on July 19, 2011

I used to have back pain also, mainly from sitting on my ass all the time. What did the trick for me was yoga. It's gentle, and it both stretches and strengthens your muscles. I haven't had any sort of back pain for the last two years as a result.
posted by number9dream at 10:26 PM on July 19, 2011

A 5x5 program would entail making use of a barbell and putting in an hour (or slightly more) two or ideally three times a week. This generally results in dramatically increased strength and improved body composition. The book "Starting Strength" is a must-read if this sounds like something you might be interested in; the program I hear most recommended is this one, or the old Stronglifts program if you like bodyweight stuff.

In the meantime, planks are worthwhile, but there is no substitute for squats. And this goes for everyone, but especially yourself as you recover - take it slow! No need to rush it.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 11:51 PM on July 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just went through this. Here are my thoughts:

1-- Let it heal first. This means no biking, no lifting, etc. until you feel 95-100% better. Can you even spend a day or two working on a nice couch or in bed (maybe on someone else's nicer mattress)? This might be difficult for you transportation-wise, but are there buses or trains where you live?

1.5-- NO HOT BATHS until the sharp pain has gone away.

2-- A new firm mattress will do wonders. We have the firmest possible from Denver Mattress and it helped clear up some back issues for me. It was also way cheaper than the name brand mattresses, so it might be worth checking out (I think we paid $600?).

3-- Sitting on an exercise ball to work or even a stool made for this purpose is great. But don't use one until your back is healed! You'll just rip things up more if the muscles aren't ready.
posted by ohio at 5:13 AM on July 20, 2011

Go to the doctor and make sure your back pain is really back pain.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:25 AM on July 20, 2011

Assuming this is just bad back pain, and not a specific injury: as a tall guy with persistent back pain, the very simple thing that prevents it for me is a few crunches a couple times a week.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 5:54 AM on July 20, 2011

Assuming we're talking lower back, the stretch saradarlin describes is a godsend. Also, there's a book called Back Rx that is the best 15 bucks you'll ever spend. The author is the official back consultant for the PGA and USTA tours. Combo of yoga, pilates, and physical therapy stretches.
posted by michaeldunaway at 6:05 AM on July 20, 2011

I've been rocking a standing desk for a little over a month and it's done wonders for my back. I work in a cube farm, but I found a children's activity table that, placed atop my normal desk, puts things at the perfect level for me.

Get some really good insoles in your shoes, change into running shoes, or buy a gel mat to stand on though. A day on your feet with bad insoles will do more harm than good.
posted by SpiffyRob at 7:16 AM on July 20, 2011

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