How can alleviate this sudden back pain?
March 24, 2014 12:47 PM   Subscribe

I have this really awful nerve-y kind of pain in my back right now that seems to be aggravated by sitting down too long.

I was perfectly fine yesterday. I started to feel like I might have trouble with my back today while I was in the shower. As soon as I sat down for more than 10 minutes, I knew I was going to have problems.

When I try to stand, I feel locked into a hunched over position. My lower back feels achy. If I try to straighten up, I get shooting pains that go upwards. Same shooting pains when I twist, but more acute. The pains are electric and take my breath away. The pain slowly starts to go away the more I walk and move around, but the first few minutes of motion are excruciating. No pain in the legs at all, no numbness. The pain definitely shoots upwards (so maybe not sciatic related?), not quite up to my neck. It's like a pain at the very core of my upper body, not on any specific side. I'm starting to get a bit of a headache at the base of my neck, but I can't tell if it's related to the back pain, or if it's just because I'm starting to stress out.

I've had this once before, about a month ago. It lasted one day and then I was fine the morning after. YANMD, but I can't get in contact with my actual doctor anytime soon. What could this be, and how can I alleviate the pain? I've been trying to stretch out slowly when I get up, but it's so painful, I'm not sure that stretching is actually helping me. Might there be a specific stretch or motion that could help me?

I haven't yet taken any Tylenol/Advil/whatever, but I'm right next to a pharmacy and can pop in (very, very slowly) to pick up any kind of OTC medication that can help me make it through the rest of the day, at least.

Thinking about the 1.5 hour commute home right now is making me want to cry!
posted by ohmy to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
600mg Ibuprofin stat!
posted by Gungho at 12:50 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lots of drug stores sell heating pads--maybe using one on your back might help relieve things while you are setting in the chair at work?
posted by foxfirefey at 12:53 PM on March 24, 2014

If you can stand it, lay down on your back on the floor.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:54 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding lay on the floor if you can. If you have muscles that are spasming in there it can help. And definitely take Ibuprofen (I would do 800mg) or 2 Aleve.
posted by something something at 12:57 PM on March 24, 2014

Weird, I had the exact thing start to happen yesterday. Thai massage didn't help. Laying down on my back on the floor for 5-10 minutes (getting down there was painful) made it go away almost completely, but then sitting again after that made it come back. Took 3 ibuprofens and that seemed to help it.
posted by nakedsushi at 1:24 PM on March 24, 2014

If your location is correct and you are in Canada, maybe try some Robaxacet or any other over-the-counter medication containing the muscle relaxant methocarbamol. This stuff helped me when I had muscle spasms. Notes:
  1. the muscle relaxant will likely make you drowsy or dizzy so don't drive if you take it
  2. these kinds of medications almost always also contain acetaminophen (Tylenol) so do not also take any additional acetominophen if you take it and don't take it if you've already had acetaminophen

posted by mhum at 1:30 PM on March 24, 2014

I have chronic back pain and I know exactly what you're going through. You have my sympathies. I would not wish back pain on my worst enemy.

Right now, you're better off with ice than heat. You want to restrict the blood flow to that area and the ice will also dull the pain. Keep icing throughout the day - for 30 min every 2-3 hours. (I use those blue gel ice packs - they are amazing, but don't put directly on your skin - I once fell asleep on one and gave myself a bit of frostbite.) For the pain, I usually take Aleve, which will also help with inflammation.

If you're getting this kind of pain frequently, you might want to see if your doctor recommends an MRI to see if you have disc issues that could be pressing on nerves in your back. Your doctor might also recommend physical therapy.

I completely understand your pain and I hope you find some relief soon. Take care!
posted by ATX Peanut at 1:44 PM on March 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

It lasted one day and then I was fine the morning after.

There is basically no way to rule this in or out without medical imaging or a change in symptoms, but kidney pain (stones, other stuff) can also present with this kind of sensation and can be intermittent. So, more frighteningly, can an aortic or infrarenal aneurysm.

If it's kidney trouble, you really don't want to take ibuprofen or naproxen. It's one of the few times that acetaminophen is safer. And you should probably use cold instead of hot if you're going to use a pack of some kind. If you start to run a fever, I would say get in somewhere that can do a urine panel sooner than you might normally if you just think you have a cold or something coming on. Urgent care, etc. If your headache gets worse, or you can't get the pain to respond at all to OTC pain relievers, or you spike a very sudden fever or nausea, go straight to the ER.

I'm normally more of a "walk it off" kind of person than alarmist, but the upward-radiating pain is a little unusual for either nerve or muscular pain originating in the lower back, though soft tissue pain can certain domino all over the place just because you're holding yourself funny to compensate. Just be really aware of any changes or additional symptoms.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:52 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

This sounds exactly like the back spasms I have occasionally.

When I was uninsured, I used to drink a bottle of wine as fast as I could and fall asleep on the hardwood floors. Seriously. I was fixed up by morning.

When I got insurance, I went to a doctor, and explained the symptoms to him. He prescribed cyclobenzaprine, a muscle relaxant, and commented that it does the exact same thing as the bottle of wine, but he couldn't tell me to drink.

Assuming it's a spasm, the other thing that is effective for me is really, really, really deep massage to break up the knot. If you have a tennis ball handy, lay down on that and find the sensitive spots and put weight in to it for 30 seconds at a time. It hurts a lot (brings tears to my eyes), but the sooner you break it up, the sooner you can get back to normal
posted by AaRdVarK at 1:57 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

The pain slowly starts to go away the more I walk and move around, but the first few minutes of motion are excruciating.

I had a back spasm in early February and I had exactly this same pattern---except my pain radiated down one leg--on the same side as the back spasm. So mine was sciatica. It was amazingly persistent. Every morning...those 1st few steps out of bed were horrible--8 out of 10 on the pain scale. But after moving around a bit and making breakfast, it would subside to like a 4 out of 10. And by the time I got to work it would be 1 or 2 out of 10 and I could go about my day without too much trouble. But then it would come right back at night and repeat. I took a moderate amount of Advil on the bad mornings--400 mg--and it really helped. The cycle is only now---6 weeks later---finally resolving itself. I am off the ibubrofen and now my morning pain is only like 2 out of 10 when I wake up. When I did some research on all this, I thought I read somewhere that these same nerve issues can sometimes migrate up the back as opposed to down the leg. But as others have suggested there could be other stuff going on so see your doctor asap. In the meantime you might want to address how you sleep. I adopted the position from this video. It really helped.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 3:30 PM on March 24, 2014

Well, I made it home.

I found some Aleve in my desk at work, so I took one of those. So far, no relief.

I was just reading about Robaxacet, and apparently you can get it without the acetaminophen/ibuprofen/ASA. You have to buy the Robaxin version. I may have to go the pharmacy this evening to pick some up if I'm still in pain.

For those of you who suggested that I lie flat on my back on the floor, do you mean with my legs flat and extended, or with knees bent and feet planted on the floor?
posted by ohmy at 4:25 PM on March 24, 2014

For those of you who suggested that I lie flat on my back on the floor, do you mean with my legs flat and extended, or with knees bent and feet planted on the floor?

Never heard of anyone who had relief with legs straight out. I have my legs up with calves and feet on the coffee table. A lot of people fold up a pillow and put it under their knees like the pillow they use for an MRI.

See a doctor. This is likely, but not certainly a muscle pain. Rule out the alternatives..
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:01 PM on March 24, 2014

I think the fact that the pain radiates upward instead of downward is a significant point and you really need to see a doctor as soon as you can. And I second the idea of kidney pain or stones - even gallstones - because the pain came on so suddenly and without any particular trauma. An aneurysm or heart pain is also a possibility.

Seriously - not all back pain is musculoskeletal. Don't take too much OTC painkiller until you know what you're treating.

Good luck to you.
posted by aryma at 6:34 PM on March 24, 2014

Constructive rest (Alexander technique) is quite a comfy way to lie with your back flat on the floor, and your head supported. There are loads of other guides to it if the first link isn't clear.
posted by danteGideon at 6:41 PM on March 26, 2014

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