Dealing with muscle tightness from referred visceral pain.
June 15, 2012 3:29 PM   Subscribe

Sporadic muscle spasms/tightness in my right flank have stopped being sporadic. It's now pretty much constant. It's going to be at least a month before I have health insurance again, so for now, going to the doctor is not really an option. I'm looking to explore all non-woo options to treat and prevent further episodes.

A little background: 10 years ago I started having nagging flank pain which, having never taken an anatomy course, I told doctors was "back pain." This led to two agonizing years of misdiagnosis. When it was finally determined that I had a ureteropelvic junction obstruction that was causing kidney dilation, I was promptly operated upon. The procedure was a success, my kidney function eventually returned to 100%, and all follow-ups showed no urological problems whatsoever.

Only problem is, I still get occasional nagging flank pain in the same area as the original kidney pain. Apparently it's not uncommon for referred pain from the viscera to cause painful muscle contraction and spasm, which can linger after the visceral condition is resolved. Groovy. Only problem is, the bouts of muscle pain in my flank have gone from "infrequent" to "all-the-effing-time," for no reason I can think of.

The pain pretty much always starts on the right side of the muscles that wraps around the spine. Then it tends to migrate upwards, to right below my right shoulder-blade. Then it migrates outwards to the muscles beneath the shoulder, right on the outside of the back part of my armpit, before migrating further outwards, and down, so that it runs down my right side, right along the crevice where the upper ribs curl under the scapula. And then it starts over.

As I am, at present, between health insurance providers, I can't afford to go to a doctor about this, so I need to come up with a plan to alleviate as much of the pain as possible and maybe even reduce the rate of recurrence. I'm open to any suggestions for non-woo* types of treatment.

Does anyone know where I can find any stretching + strengthening regimens specifically for flank pain? Are theres series of yoga poses that focus on this area? Any suggestions as to how to maximize their benefits?

Standing for long periods of time, and sitting without back support (e.g. on a barstool) tend to aggravate the pain. Any ideas how I can find if there are postures that will minimize the problems when in these positions, and then how to go about ensuring that I adhere to them?

Is there any stratagem that I'm not thinking of? Massages feel nice, but don't have lasting enough benefits to justify the cost. Do electric massage devices really do anything? Are there any good, relatively cheap ones that won't require contortionist skills to apply to the lower right flank?

*For my purposes, woo includes all forms of Complementary or Alternatvie Medicine, such as acupuncture, acupressure, naturopathy, reflexology, chiropractic, herbs and supplements, reiki, trigger-point therapy, etc.
posted by patnasty to Health & Fitness (8 answers total)
"Only problem is, the bouts of muscle pain in my flank have gone from "infrequent" to "all-the-effing-time," for no reason I can think of."

Sometimes muscle pain and spasms can be exacerbated by an electrolyte imbalance. If you can't afford a blood test at your doctor's office, go to the Red Cross and offer to donate blood, platelets, or plasma: if there's anything wrong with your numbers, you won't be able to donate-- but if you're fine, somebody gets blood and you're helping save lives. Everybody wins! At the very least, showing up will get you in front of health care professionals. Good luck!
posted by doreur at 4:29 PM on June 15, 2012

Your goals seem conflicting. Yoga is in, but trigger-points massage is out even if you are aware of referred pain? Low-cost is often "woo".
I can recommend this electrical massager.
Google "Thoracic Paraspinal Stretch". There is also a stretch which derives from "Child's pose" where you press your elbows together and stretch your arms forward.
posted by Eltulipan at 4:50 PM on June 15, 2012

Going to the Red Cross will get you nothing more than a rapid hemoglobin test to determine that you're not too anemic to donate blood. Later on, your blood will be screened for blood borne pathogens, not a complete screening of your metabolic function.

Please do not use the blood donation system as medical care--it's misguided at best and potentially a waste of everyone's overburdened, volunteer time.

As far as your question goes, there's not much that helps with referred pain. You can try a yoga class, or over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, but otherwise your best plan is to head to the doctor as soon as you're insured again.
posted by jesourie at 5:22 PM on June 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am not your/a MD, but the shoulder and scapular pain part of your symptoms also can be associated with gallbladder issues. Gallbladder problems are often interpreted as musculoskeletal pain by sufferers. If you feel it get more intense after eating foods containing fat, that can be another sign. You could try some diet modification experiments and see if eating a very low fat diet makes a difference in the amount of pain you experience.
posted by quince at 5:38 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

IANAD, but magnesium is my favorite OTC antispasmodic/muscle relaxant. Try oral supplementation of it and/or soaking in an epsom salt bath.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 8:09 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some dietary things to try. First eat a banana. Potassium levels if low can cause or increase muscle cramping. If that is not it at least you had a tasty banana or two. Next have some tonic water. Tonic water contains a bittering agent called Quinine that is a potent muscle relaxant. So I recommend a banana and a Gin and Tonic or two. Maybe without the gin.

And see someone as soon as you are able.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 10:26 PM on June 15, 2012

I assume you're doing the heat/ice and ibuprofen thing already? And drinking lots of water? Vitamin D and calcium were recommended to my husband for shoulder/back pain.

Also, change up your sleeping style to see if anything makes a difference. I hear firmer surfaces are better for back pain.
posted by desjardins at 5:59 AM on June 16, 2012

Oh, wow. I could have written your background paragraph myself almost word for word - my surgery was in '04. I got lucky, my pain is pretty minor and doesn't migrate, but maybe some of this could help:

- Taking a bath or a heat pack almost always helps with the seizing muscles around the spine
- Sleeping on my side worsens the pain
- The doctor prescribed me some physical therapy before they diagnosed me correctly. We mostly did core-strengthening exercises (a little like this) and they are still my go-to every time my back starts giving me trouble. It's very likely a bad idea to start this now when you're in so much pain already and without someone who knows what they're doing. I'd definitely recommend some physical therapy once you're in less pain and insured again. (If insurances cover these things where you are.)
posted by pishposh at 6:03 AM on June 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

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