How did he get these long, thin bruises and not know?
August 26, 2006 10:42 AM   Subscribe

I hadn't seen my partner in a few days and when I got home, he showed me these big, long horizontal scratches that appeared on his back. He has no idea where they came from. It's the stigmata!

They're long (about from shoulderblade to shoulderblade length), horizontal but tilted, and are under the skin--they look almost like long, thin bruises. There are four of them--there were three yesterday, and overnight another one appeared. He says they don't hurt.

He doesn't recall hurting himself, banging his back on anything, or getting scratched by anything or anyone in quite a while. He said he might have gotten them in his sleep, but there's nothing on the way to the bathroom that is sharp or pointy enough that it could have made; also, I'd think getting hurt in such a manner would be enough to wake one up.

Where did these come from? Could they just have appeared out of nowhere for no reason? Has this ever happened to anyone?

Here is a low-quality picture.
posted by sian to Health & Fitness (28 answers total)
I get unexplained scratches all the time (and have even had several long ones like that on my back).
posted by rafter at 10:46 AM on August 26, 2006

Are there little sharp bits of dust in your bed, or on your towels?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:47 AM on August 26, 2006 [1 favorite]

I have stuff like that all the time. I think it's usually caused by the strap of a heavy bag I'm carrying on my back or sitting awkwardly in a chair for awhile.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:48 AM on August 26, 2006

Was he scratching his back in his sleep? I used to do this when I slept alone, and I'd get marks like that.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:48 AM on August 26, 2006

Don't like like to say it, but have considered that he might have been... y'know?
posted by ed\26h at 10:50 AM on August 26, 2006

Yeah, they look like backpack marks.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:50 AM on August 26, 2006

Response by poster: He hasn't been in school for three months and hence, no backpack. We haven't had much furniture in the past week and a half due to moving (sit on the bed or suffer, basically) and the towels/sheets we use we have been using for months and were cleaned in their usual way. He can't have been scratching his back because he can't reach those spots.

And if he were cheating, I give him props for energy considering he's been working non-stop, talking to me and sleeping the rest of the time. :-P
posted by sian at 11:01 AM on August 26, 2006

Best answer: Are you sure he isn't time-travelling in his sleep? It's possible that he was lightly whipped for insubordination aboard an 18th century ship he was gangpressed onto while you were sleeping soundly in your 21st century bed.
posted by cmonkey at 11:01 AM on August 26, 2006 [20 favorites]

Years ago, when I taught kindergarten, the kids and I were having a grass fight in a field of freshly mown grass. At some point, they started stuffing grass down the back of my shirt. Later, when I took my shirt off, I saw that my back was covered with dozens of red marks -- each in the shape of a blade of grass. It looked like I had been whipped.

I went to the doctor, and he said he'd never seen anything like it. He called all the nurses in to look at my back. It was an allergic reaction of some kind. Having spent years walking barefoot in the grass with no problems, it couldn't have been a grass allergy. It was probably a reaction to some sort of pesticide that was on the grass. In the end, the doctor gave me a steroid run and a shot of adrenalin (wow!) and the marks were gone in about five minutes.

Anyway, it's possible your partner is having an allergic reaction. Try to get him to think about unusual stuff that may have touched his back. New soap? New shirt? New detergent?
posted by grumblebee at 11:06 AM on August 26, 2006

They look similar to marks I get on my shoulders when I lift weights and the pressure causes the wrinkles in my shirt to leave freaky red marks.

Also, he might want to go to the doctor. Some people bruise easily all the time and don't remember hurting themselves (like me), but if he's suddenly bruising easily it could be the sign of a medical issue.
posted by tastybrains at 11:08 AM on August 26, 2006

Yep, I get random marks like that on my back, too. Don't know what causes them, but I don't usually notice right away when I cut myself by accident, either.
posted by trevyn at 11:11 AM on August 26, 2006

Just an observation: both of the darker streaks seem to have a very regular pattern: 2" long dark red section, 3" long trailing off lighter section, repeat. As if he were leaning up against a chair-back with that pattern, or as if the marks were made by something rolling that left a heavy, then light, then heavy impression.

My first guess was weird wrinkles from the sheet, or having slept in a weird position wrinkling the skin. Did they all appear at once and none since then? Does he sleep weirdly when you're not around?
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:33 AM on August 26, 2006

Since you say you don't have much furniture right now... could he have been sitting in an odd place (e.g., sitting on the floor leaning against the sharp corner of the bed), which pressed those marks into his back? Maybe while reading or using a laptop?

Other than that, I think cmonkey's explanation is the only possible one.
posted by hattifattener at 11:40 AM on August 26, 2006

Got things which looked very similar to that when SCUBA diving once.

My drysuit air hose had disconnected and meant I couldn't put more air into the suit.

The pressure from the water effectively vacuum-packed me, I noticed (the agonising pain in my groin), reconnected the lead and gave myself some much needed relief.

Later, when showering I noticed red marks all over my body from where the suit had pinched me.

I know that's probably not much help unless he's been diving in cold water recently, but still...
posted by knapah at 11:47 AM on August 26, 2006

Tastybrains said exactly what I thought when I first saw them.
posted by klangklangston at 12:48 PM on August 26, 2006

It's a genetic thing; some people "mark" easily and with no real injury.

In his case, it's something he's sitting against. You mentioned you have no (almost) furniture, so I assume he's been sitting on the bed and leaning back against the wall. As his back slides against the wall that will have (slightly) bunched up his shirt, creating pressure points.
posted by orthogonality at 1:11 PM on August 26, 2006

I used to get marks like that from my shirt when lifting weights, too--small reddish bruises along the shoulder seams after doing heavy squats.

He been doin' squats recently?
posted by Coda at 1:56 PM on August 26, 2006

Response by poster: I suppose it could be sitting against the wall + wrinkled shirt, but I wouldn't have ever dreamed that it would cause red marks that stay for days.
posted by sian at 2:08 PM on August 26, 2006

Could be stretch marks, due to lots of bending over or a growth spurt. You could go see a dermatologist to get a more definite diagnosis.
posted by Binliner at 2:09 PM on August 26, 2006

Like tastybrains I develop marks that look like that all the time from working out - and sometimes not necessarily in the areas that were up against weights. It's touched on in this question. Even if he wasn't lifting weights, maybe the same effect can come from hefting boxes or something?
posted by jamesonandwater at 3:16 PM on August 26, 2006

Petechia. See also petechiae.
posted by TorontoSandy at 3:24 PM on August 26, 2006

I get long scratches that are actually through the skin all over my back all the time. We can't figure out how they occur, but I often have long rough scratches, and they're actually lacerated.

When I encounter things I don't understand, I just tend not to bother thinking about it :)
posted by wackybrit at 4:25 PM on August 26, 2006

I'm assuming you've been with him long enough to know if he marks easily. So, this would indicate a change (he now marks easily), and I echo tastybrain's sentiment that a check up would not be a bad idea (if you have insurance that will cover it).

I'm echoing tastybrains, but I'm pointing at cmonkey. Occams Razor suggests that the most simple explanations are the likeliest.
posted by Dunwitty at 4:45 PM on August 26, 2006

My roommate got similar mystery scratches. She finally figured out it was because she was sleeping on an old matress, and a spring was scratching her while she slept. She couldn't find the spring when she was awake, since when she wasn't lying down, she wasn't pressing the matress hard enough for it to poke through. So there's another theory for you.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 5:41 PM on August 26, 2006

When I was a camp counselor one of the kids developed marks like that from extreme stress. They turned out to be shingles in her case. INAD, but they do look very similiar. Shingles itch, so I imagine he'd notice that.
posted by nadise at 5:11 AM on August 27, 2006

stretch marks?
posted by Izzmeister at 8:36 AM on August 27, 2006

I suspect folds in the bedding coupled with a propensity for bruising. People who are short of Vitamin C tend to bruise very easily (pre-cursor to scurvy) so that even fairly mild pressure for a long time will cause bruising. The folds in bedding sheets would apply pressure to localized areas in linear patterns and if he was sleeping so soundly that he did not change position for several hours, it could cause the symptoms he has.
posted by RMALCOLM at 9:35 AM on August 27, 2006

i suspect he was sleeping with someone and in a moment of passion she clawed his back
posted by petsounds at 10:51 AM on August 27, 2006

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