What happens when you throw your back out and how can these injuries be prevented?
October 26, 2005 3:58 PM   Subscribe

What happens when you throw your back out and how can these injuries be prevented?

Im asking here because ive become really annoyed with doctors not being able to tell me anything useful... id rather go with the wisdom of the crowds...
Ive thrown my back out in 2 separate places recently on 2 separate occasions. The first one was after taking a few heavy swings with a baseball bat. The second one was going for an especially vigorous 2 handed layup after playing basketball for about an hour.
I work out regularly so my back is more muscular than its ever been, but my spine on the other hand is obviously a shambles.
After some research it seems like what we call throwing out our backs is something like a slipped disc or a ruptured disc. Im not sure how i can tell which these were though. It just felt like something gave, and there is pain that tells me to take it easy if i try to run around or something. Seems to go away after a few days.
Do these kinds of things do permanent damage? Ive never had this happen before. While putting more muscle on my back may help, I have a feeling i need additional spine repair or something...
posted by GleepGlop to Health & Fitness (16 answers total)
Mine has always been a pulled muscle. But then again, I don't know if there's a specific definition of "throwing one's back out."
posted by gramcracker at 4:11 PM on October 26, 2005

Is your abdomen equally as strong as your back? Many back injuries of this type occur if your abdomen isn't sufficiently strong.
Also, I've found that the back braces sold at hardware stores (usually $16-$18) are helpful when I'm doing especially strenous jobs at work. Not sure about sports but may be worth looking into. Also, sports doctors and physical therapists are very helpful with this sort of thing. Just don't go to a chiropractor.
posted by slow, man at 4:35 PM on October 26, 2005

I had back surgery and have a weak back muscle-wise. I "throw my back out" every now and then, and not always for a good reason (once it was a sneeze!).

I agree that it is probably a pulled muscle. It hurts like hell, and probably more than any other pulled muscle, because your back is integral to everything you do. So when it is weak, you notice it a lot more than your arm, for example. (my theory)

I doubt you have anything wrong with your actual spine, and if you really suspect that then go to a back doctor. If it were your spine, I think you'd have consistent problems, not always associated with a "traumatic" event of the muscles, like swinging a bat. (I had a break/fracture in a couple of spots and didn't know it, and had back pain on and off for a long time even when not being active.)

on preview: I second what slow, man says
posted by evening at 4:44 PM on October 26, 2005

yup, the abs are stronger than the back...
posted by GleepGlop at 4:45 PM on October 26, 2005

I'm not a doctor, just some dude on the internet, but both of those sound like torquing types of injuries. Have you tried some kind of stretching or yoga?
posted by willnot at 4:49 PM on October 26, 2005

The thing is these things didnt really hurt that bad. Just more of a 'whoops, there goes the back'. And I dont feel anything unless I lift something heavy or jog on the spot or something. The only other time Ive done something to my back was lifting a heavy box and not being careful a few years ago, and there was a definite 'slipping' sensation of a disc going out of place. And the air kind of forced its way out of my lungs under the strain. Same thing happened all 3 times. It doesnt feel at all like a muscle thing. Definitely a vertebrae thing if im any good at telling whats happening with my body...
posted by GleepGlop at 4:52 PM on October 26, 2005

willnot, that does seem like a good idea now that i think about it, if i were to do the right stretches. I used to stretch and fool around with my back a lot on account of how screwed up it is, but i found it just made it worse so i just leave it alone now...
posted by GleepGlop at 4:54 PM on October 26, 2005

Highly unlikely that your spine or discs are damaged, they're really very strong and can take basketball or baseball injuries pretty well. It takes a car crash, a 30 ft fall or some other serious impact to do damage unless you have osteoporosis. The pain you get from that tends to be felt at points distal to where that deformity pinches a nerve, such as in your thigh or biceps.
Much more likely it's muscle spasms. If you don't do yoga or tai chi or some other discipline that balances the strength of your back muscles the ones you use most get stronger than those that mostly rest, then when you go all out to slam dunk or hit a homer you overstretch them relative to what they're used to and it hurts. They recoil into a state of contraction to avoid further stretching. A few minutes of that causes lactic acid buildup which also really hurts.
It takes days, weeks or more to recover, based on your level of fitness, activity and nutritional status.
Physical therapy in the form of heat packs/hot tub, massage, and gentle stretching and strengthening exercise will accelerate healing as well as make future exacerbations less likely.
NSAIDs such as ibuprofen are a godsend.
posted by dkippe at 4:57 PM on October 26, 2005

It really helps to take ibuprofen right BEFORE you do strenuous activities, also.
posted by naomi at 5:16 PM on October 26, 2005

It's difficult for a doctor to distinguish muscle injury from a herniated disc, although the latter will usually also produce pain in one or both legs. An MRI is helpful in this, but it isn't practical to scan everyone with back pain.

As we age our discs become more prone to herniate, and the only thing I know of to prevent herniation is to be careful with how we do things, especially lifting. Conditioning can help prevent muscle injury, and there are yoga maneuvers specifically to condition the back. (At least I think there are, as I just bought a DVD of it yesterday.) Also, a good physical therapist can teach you how to care for your back.
posted by neuron at 5:20 PM on October 26, 2005

hmm, maybe it is a muscle spasm... i do believe the muscle tension in my back is uneven...
The first recent injury was decidedly on the left side of my spine and this current one is decidedly on the right side... ill have to look more into this...
posted by GleepGlop at 5:20 PM on October 26, 2005

Highly unlikely that your spine or discs are damaged, they're really very strong and can take basketball or baseball injuries pretty well.
I herniated a disk while mopping up an overflowed toilet.
The second time, three years later, was while picking up a razor which put me into the hospital and it took demerol and vicodin to kill the pain enough for them to put me in traction. For an f'ing disposable razor.

In my case, the root cause is/was lack up trunk stability (needed stronger abs and back) and very, very tight hamstrings. This was helped greatly with exercises and yoga.

For a sustained injury, I cannot stress the importance of frozen peas and frozen corn used as cheap, malleable, reusable ice packs. Wrap in a hand towel and chill out.

Personally, NSAIDs do absolutely nothing for me in any way, shape or form so I use cold to reduce the swelling.

Consider a chiropracter, yoga (I did Iyengar style which is also known as Hatha yoga and am very impressed with it as a discipline).
posted by plinth at 5:57 PM on October 26, 2005

I, too, often pull muscles in my back. I started doing Pilates about three years ago. I hurt my back less often now and when I do hurt it, I recover much more quickly. I simply bought a book and picked a set of movements that I go through two or three times a week in the privacy of my home. I highly recommend this to you. Plus, it has really reduced my love handles and given my stomach a nice sculpted look!
posted by loosemouth at 6:36 PM on October 26, 2005

I ruptured a disc last year (and had an MRI scan to confirm it), and have done the same again this year (although I think it is a different disc).

Both times the main pain for me has not been in my back, but in my leg (first time, straight down the back to my foot, with numb foot, loss of sensation in the leg, second time it's just above the knee and also seems to curve round more to the front of the leg).

I'm sure ruptured discs can do more than this, but if you find you have no pain other than in your back, and it goes away after a few days, I'd guess that it's msucular rather than disc-related. Most accounts I've read of disc trouble seem to have referred pain along with it, and to last quite a while. And it's absolute bloody agony.

I've found this website useful for finding out what's up with my back, and what to do about it.

I'd recommend what others have said about ice and NSAIDs for immediate relief, yoga/pilates for longer-term core strengthening, look after your hamstrings, back muscles, abdominal muscles.

I'd also say that from what I understand some general problems in the back (over-tight muscles, bad posture, low core strength) can make you more prone to disc injury in the future, so I would really strongly say that even if this goes away for now, do keep working on the stuff mentioned above as part of your life - it could save you a whole lot of unpleasantness in the future.

Best of luck with it.
posted by reynir at 6:12 AM on October 27, 2005

As an aside, this: I did Iyengar style which is also known as Hatha yoga and am very impressed with it as a discipline isn't quite right. Iyengar is a type of hatha yoga, which covers a lot of other approaches as well. Iyengar is very focused on proper alignment and technique, and a little less on flow / spirituality / etc., so if you're looking for very specific, very detailed instructions on poses, it'd be a great way to go. But most classes just labelled "hatha" are *not* Iyengar.

posted by occhiblu at 9:08 AM on October 27, 2005

Don't mess around with your back, and don't listen to us fools on the Internet. When I slipped a disc, I couldn't walk for a couple days, so it doesn't sound like what happened to you, but still, if you're concerned, a visit to the doctor is a good idea. I blew my pain off for a while but I wish I hadn't. Finally I got an MRI and physical therapy. Apparently, I was doing simple things like getting up or picking things up from the floor in a way that was terrible for my back. Now I do exercises, stretch, try to find less harmful ways to sit, and build core strength. I wish I'd started working on these problems sooner because a bad back blows. So yeah, see a doctor.
posted by muckster at 9:56 PM on October 27, 2005

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