Help me identify this back pain
May 20, 2013 10:44 PM   Subscribe

I had a baby a few months ago, and all of the sudden I can't sleep through the night without having excruciating back pain. YANMD, but I have never had serious back pain before and don't know really know where to start. New mattress? Chiropractor? Physical therapy? Stop getting older? Some more details inside.

The pain seems to be located in the center of my back under my shoulder blades. I've tried every possible sleeping position and no matter what, I wake up in pain. It goes away completely if I get out of bed and either sit or stand up for about a half hour, and my back doesn't bother me at all during the day.

The pain is awful and wakes me up constantly throughout the night. I toss around but nothing is comfortable or seems to offer any relief but getting out of bed. It happened very suddenly so I'm not apt to blame the mattress but maybe this is the problem? It's a relatively new mattress, not more than two years old. I share the bed with my partner.

Any idea what I should do to fix this? I feel like there are TONS of options for this sort of thing and it's kind of overwhelming figuring out where to start.
posted by annekate to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
IANAD but I have given birth twice, and that was what jumped out at me about your question.

As you will know, the hormone 'relaxin' means that all your joints loosen up during pregnancy. The effect of this often lasts until a few months after the birth. I'm guessing that you have done or are doing something to your back - with a new baby you are often sitting, standing and carrying things (the baby) around differently to what you did before, which can cause problems and pain. So that would be my first guess: back problems from pregnancy and/or having a new baby around, which have suddenly become painful due to the absence of relaxin in your system.

Perhaps my first stop would be to the doctor for advice and a referral. Where I live we have a particular system for learning to walk, sit and stand properly but it's only available in a few countries. Hopefully someone from your area would be able to point you in the right direction for the help you need. This is just my opinion, but it hopefully gives you a starting point.
posted by rubbish bin night at 11:02 PM on May 20, 2013

Not to be cryptic, this is the system I was referring to: Mensendieck. It worked wonders for me.
posted by rubbish bin night at 11:06 PM on May 20, 2013

Best answer: PT here. (IANYPT, TINMA, etc) While this is likely a musculoskeletal issue that could be treated by a good PT (go to, click on "find a PT," and find an Orthopedic Certified Specialist in your area), I would FIRST go get seen by an MD. Nighttime back pain that resolves in the morning is a yellow flag for an inflammatory issue or something like ankylosing spondylitis, and you want to rule that out before you're treated by a PT.
posted by jennyjenny at 11:09 PM on May 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

I hadn't ever had back problems before a couple months ago and then I got up from a typical stooped position and suddenly was in big pain and fairly non-functional for awhile- like weeks! It wigged me out. I get wigged out from no sleep anyway, but no sleep, plus pain, plus baffled? No bueno.

So in desperation, I went to a kinesthiologist/chiropractor that a friend promised was very very gentle. I've never even been to a chiropractor before, because they creep me out. This woman didn't do much chiropracty (?)- it was just poking around, and in two weeks I went from debilitated to pretty darn good, and now, 3 weeks later, I'm at 100%.

I just looked up kinesthesiology on google and apparently it's a "pseudoscience" used to diagnose imbalances. Ok, this woman didn't do any of that. It was more like getting out of whack muscles and nerves gently directed back into compliance or something like.

Listening to her was like listening to someone diagnosing an electrical problem: "This works and this works but that doesn't. Hmm. That's weird. It must be blocked here.. (poke poke push) yup, that fixed it. Now what's up with this muscle acting up? Here, hold your arm like that while I push this spot on your back..."

And then: "OK, stop sitting in your chair like that. Sit like this instead. And here's a stretch to do before you do anything else in the morning, til this clears up."

And voila! I am completely sold on it. If you're in the east bay, I'll give you her name. It was one long visit (1.5 hours) and one short one (.5 hours).
posted by small_ruminant at 11:27 PM on May 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's the exact pain I had with gall bladder stones, which are also correlated with pregnancy/child bearing. Horrible pain, almost only ever at night, right where you're describing. Eventually it morphed from 'ow, back hurts' to 'oh God I think I'm dying' and then 'I'm dying and vomiting'. A few friends have had their gall bladder issues manifest in almost the exact same way.
posted by geek anachronism at 12:35 AM on May 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are you nursing? If your position is slightly off you can get a lot of back pain. Remember to relax your shoulders and bring the baby up to you with pillows etc rather than you moving into position.

Also you might be sitting a lot more than before with all the rocking, feeding etc. Try to spend your sitting time on a yoga ball instead. It can help with the back pain. Also its a great tool for doing some easy stretches for the back too. YouTube has some great videos for this.
posted by saradarlin at 12:36 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I struggled with the hormone relaxin for 6 months after my first pregnancy -- so much so that I was tested for Lyme disease, etc. It presented as extreme joint pain and stiffness all over, though. My first thought reading your question was also gall stones. When I had stones and had to wait a few days before surgery, the dr had me cut all fat intake from my diet to avoid an attack. So, maybe cut down on fat calories for a few days and see if that brings relief.
posted by katie at 2:56 AM on May 21, 2013

IANAD but my guess is it's "mother's shoulder."

I had three kids and had similar pain with my first. Upon explaining the pain to my midwife at my 6-month checkup, she asked me to show her how I held my baby.

A combination of hormones, a decrease in my usual yoga and the fact that I had been completely scrunching up my left shoulder whenever I held or nursed Kinetic Jr. was causing the pain.

As soon as I learned to relax my left arm and shoulder it ended.
posted by kinetic at 3:36 AM on May 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If it's musculoskeletal pain, there are a hundred ways you can treat it - chiropractor, heating pads, physical therapy, new mattress, strengthening exercises, anti-inflammatories, etc. ... but first you need to be sure it's musculoskeletal. It's absolutely classic for gallstones and even for a peptic ulcer or pancreatitis - for that matter, a kidney stone can cause pain in that area and so can your heart.

See a doctor first and get these things ruled out because any one of them can become a serious problem. Hopefully, it will be something simple. Congratulations on your little one.
posted by aryma at 5:01 AM on May 21, 2013

could be weak core/abdominals that used to support you. my sister-in-law suffered from something similar and her doctor told her to do sit-ups.
posted by sabh at 10:45 AM on May 21, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks MeFi, this thread got me to go visit my doc and it turned out to be a kidney problem. So glad I asked and didn't just replace my mattress!
posted by annekate at 5:20 PM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

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