Link between menstrual period and throwing back out?
February 11, 2020 6:24 AM   Subscribe

For two months in a row, I have thrown my back out right as my menstrual period was starting. Is this a coincidence, or is there a hormonal explanation?

Quick caveat, I *do* know that some people experience low back pain as a symptom of PMS and/or menstrual cramps, but this is a different issue.

While I have a history of back issues, they've been very well managed for quite a while. I had a small flare-up last spring, but had a few months of PT and everything has been going well.

However, in both January and February, I have "thrown my back out" -- I never know the exact meaning of that, but in this case, I mean extremely limited mobility. I'm unable to bend at the waist, my low/mid back feels like it's in a vice, I have nerve pain down both legs, etc.

Last month, there was at least *some* explanation; it happened after several days of sitting at a conference, plus airplane travel. (I'm used to a standing desk.) This month, I have no idea. Yesterday, I handily walked 10K steps and felt fantastic; this morning, I can barely dress myself.

I've just put together that these events happened on basically the exact same day of my menstrual cycle two months in a row, so I'm curious if there's a hormonal component that I should be discussing with a gynecologist. Would really, really love to avoid this happening on a monthly basis, SHEESH.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There is a probable link between injury and menstrual cycles. How it matches up with your experiences, I'm not sure.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:30 AM on February 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

Estrogen is believed to help protect against pain. Your levels drop right before your periods. It may well have been a carry over from last month but you noticed the pain less due to the higher Estrogen levels after your periods. Throw in that pre period inflammation could also irritate a healing injury.
posted by wwax at 6:47 AM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have endometriosis, which can cause severe pain, on top of scoliosis. I have gotten excruciating sciatica pain during hormone changes and periods. Like - legs giving out under me and almost going to the ER level sciatica. It only showed up as my endo worsened. You may want to explore endo and possible symptom management like medication, if not more.

Note: there is no cure. No external tests can confirm it - only visual inspection during surgery. Excision is required, not cauterization. The inflation affects the back, hips, pelvis, and the sciatic nerve space, and more.
posted by Crystalinne at 7:16 AM on February 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you have soft tissue damage, including soft tissue damage that allows pressure on nerves if the conditions are right/wrong, this could absolutely flare as part of the systemic effects of menstruation. I had terrible menstrual back cramps in my twenties, midway through which I was also in a car accident that left me with sciatica. The sciatica was there every day, but it was excruciating from the last day of PMS to second or so day of actual bleeding.

Magnesium helped with the intensity, core strengthening (done carefully to avoid antagonizing my back) also helped, and eventually I aged out of the more severe cramping and recovered more or less fully from the sciatica.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:29 AM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Relaxin peaks in the second half of your menstrual cycle, so it's conceivable that your joints could be more loose around this time, leading to increased possibility of injury.
posted by Knicke at 7:53 AM on February 11, 2020 [9 favorites]

I know when I was pregnant my doc told me that my cartilage was softer and so if it was easier to throw things out of whack. (Which I did. Repeatedly.) I wonder if a similar phenomenon is happening here? Either way, ouch and good luck!
posted by jeszac at 8:08 AM on February 11, 2020

I only have anecdotal data, but for a few months I was also Googling "throw back out, menstrual cycle?" because it happened to me multiple months in a row. I'd be fine and then the pain would creep up on me over a few hours until I was miserable. It wasn't right when my period began, but instead a day or two after ovulation (maybe around day 14 - 16), so I was trying to figure out if a sudden drop in hormones was causing it. (I am not on any hormonal birth control).

I did physical therapy for a bit and they gave me exercises and posture correcting tips, and that helped, but what really cured it was my heavy baby learning how to walk and no longer constantly demanding I pick her up, put her down, and carry her everywhere, not sure if you have a similar trigger in your life.
posted by castlebravo at 8:40 AM on February 11, 2020

Seconding the relaxin hormone peaking. I have also noticed that I am more prone to injury if I'm doing something physical while ticked off, so something to consider if you have PMS. I now literally stop myself from doing heavy cleaning, gardening, etc. if I'm having an angry day because I know the likelihood of it leading to injury. I think it happens because I move faster and with less mindfulness when I'm angry. That plus relaxin is a recipe for throwing your back out.

P.s. I recommend the book Treat Your Own Back for bulging disc/sciatica issues like you describe. I also really really recommend physical therapy. Hope your feel better soon!
posted by purple_bird at 9:26 AM on February 11, 2020

Yeah, relaxin could definitely be a part. Beginning during pregnancy and lasting almost a decade after, my whole body went all loose, and it was particularly painful and disabling in my pelvic girdle. Many people think of their sacroiliac joints as their "low back," and a lot of movement there can cause all sorts of issues, including referred and sciatic pain. PT helped me up to a point, but it wasn't until I started taking chelated magnesium that it started resolving. That was unexpected; I was taking it for something completely different, but suddenly my cluster headaches, foot cramps, and PMS symptoms were clearing up, and my body started holding itself together. I still have some trouble with connective tissue, but nothing like before.

I can get a lot of inflammation at that time of month, too, if things are off kilter hormonally or I haven't been taking my magnesium.
posted by moira at 9:54 AM on February 11, 2020

Whatevering relaxin. I literally have trouble holding onto objects in the days before I get period. I drop things constantly. Once I was standing up talking to my mom while holding a teacup in both hands, and the thing just fell from my hands to the floor. Next day got my period.
posted by HotToddy at 11:51 AM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I think there's absolutely a good possibility of a hormonal component. Over the last year, my periods have kind of shifted to involve almost no blood but it seems like that was traded for debilitating lower back pain. It feels like I've "thrown my back out" for about a week and seems totally unrelated to what activities I do / how I sit, even though it feels exactly like what would happen if I somehow injured myself. I have a Mirena IUD, if that's at all relevant. Definitely talk to a doctor about it and honestly reading what I just wrote, I'm realizing I probably should too.
posted by augustimagination at 12:39 PM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

All these answers are super helpful, thank you! Sounds like I'm not crazy to think that there's a hormonal component here. I've been diagnosed by a physical therapist as having very loose joints and ligaments to begin with, so it absolutely makes sense that relaxin would make that worse. I'm in touch with my doctor about whether she wants to see me vs. send me right to PT.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 3:19 PM on February 11, 2020

Just to thrown in one more data point, I'm typically pretty coordinated (and also very flexible to begin with) and I get walking-into-walls clumsy a day or two right before my period. I saw some studies a while back looking at whether fluid retention over the course of a menstrual cycle might impact proprioception; relaxin is a much better explanation!
posted by yeahlikethat at 5:41 PM on February 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

Similar to HotToddy and yeahlikethat, in the day or two immediately before mine hits, I now get super clumsy—I'm typically someone who's nimble, with good hand-eye coordination, but I know it's coming when I stub my toe on seemingly every furniture item I pass or drop things for no reason. Hormones are weird, man.
posted by limeonaire at 6:54 PM on February 11, 2020

I get awful low-back muscle spasms right before and at the beginning of mine

Heat and beer help
posted by Jacqueline at 5:19 AM on February 12, 2020

A quick follow-up: my PT confirmed that hormones can make you more prone to injury around the start of your period. Her working theory was that I sprained my back in January, it never healed properly, and then when my period came around again, it got reinjured. I've been working with her for 4 weeks to get things back in order. I did have some back pain when my period came earlier this week, but nothing like the last two months. Hooray!
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 1:33 PM on March 12, 2020

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