My Back Hurts

Sorry for the disappearing act. I’ve been using this time to better myself by learning about new things. Like the various causes of sciatica. Or where you go in Harrisonburg when you need to have your back X-rayed. Turns out I have a degenerate disc in my lower back. When you consider that there are far nastier things that can cause low back pain, this is actually decent news. Happily, through a combination of lots of rest and some anti-inflammatory medication the symptoms have largely abated, and my doctor is optimistic that things will return to normal fairly soon. Since I was largely immobile last week, it’s nice to be back on my feet at all. I hope to return to regular blogging shortly.


  1. #1 Deborah Goulekas
    August 10, 2011

    Three years ago when I was 54 I experienced lower back pain. I especially suffered when I got up in the morning from bed. I never did go to the doctor but, instead, joined a fitness center that had a pool. I worked up to an hour of doing the breast stroke four or five days a week and continue to do so today. When I first started, the back pain was still there but after a month of swimming, I became completely back pain free.

    You may want to seriously consider swimming on a regular basis. My upper body strength is very good now!

    Best of Luck to You!

    Deborah Goulekas
    Jacksonville, FL

  2. #2 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    August 10, 2011

    Cornell develops spinal disc implants for pain sufferers

    It’s still in animal testing, so take it easy for a couple of years.

  3. #3 Jonathan Lubin
    August 10, 2011

    Jason, under no circumstance should you consent to surgery. Anecdotally, I’ve had back problems, too, and have found that exercise is best; statistically, a high-level therapist of my acquaintance tells me that the best treatment for back pain has proven to be aggressive exercise.

  4. #4 Richard Wein
    August 11, 2011

    Jason. Sorry to hear that you’ve succumbed to one of the curses of modern living.

    I think it was too much sitting and not enough exercise that did for my back. So I recommend less of the former and more of the latter. But build up the exercise gradually and see what works best for you. Swimming and walking are great, plus some sort of stretching. (I’m not so sure about “aggressive” exercise!)

  5. #5 stripey_cat
    August 11, 2011

    A good physiotherapist will be able to recommend an exercise programme that’ll support your back and strengthen it without worsening the damage. You may find you need floor exercises for a while before you try swimming (depending on how weak your back muscles currently are). Good luck, especially when it comes to sticking to the exercise in six months or a years time.

  6. #6 eric
    August 11, 2011

    Good luck Jason!

    Jason, under no circumstance should you consent to surgery.

    My surgery for a herniated disk was a spectacular success. As was my dad’s. As was my cousin’s. Herniated disk is obviously a different problem from what Jason has and, to you and Jason, my stories should only count as anecdotes. Nevertheless, I do wonder why you have such a strong opposition to even the possibility of surgery.

    Exercise first, to be sure. It’s cheaper, less risky, and heck we should probably all be doing more of it on general principle. But if you are like me and start losing feeling in one of your legs, it’s time for a professional to step in and prevent (any further) nerve damage.

  7. #7 Jason Rosenhouse
    August 11, 2011

    Thanks for all the suggestions. There’s been pretty dramatic improvement in just a few days with the anti-inflammatory medication (Neproxin) my doctor prescribed. Last week I was in a lot of pain and was walking with a very pronounced limp. Today I’m walking almost normally. I’m mostly pain free. I can perform tricks like tying my shoes and going down stairs. There are still problems, though. It’s uncomfortable to sit for long periods of time, and I do have some localized numbness in my left leg. My doctor was optimistic that that would clear up on its own.

    The X-ray showed a single degenerate disc, but nothing more serious like spondylosis, fractures or tumors. My doctor strongly discouraged me from considering surgery at this time, but I really didn’t need much discouraging. His feeling was that the inflammation will gradually go down on its own, and that losing some weight and exercising regularly would be the way to go in the future. That would certainly be consistent with what I’ve experienced in the past.

  8. #8 J.J.E.
    August 12, 2011

    In a general sense I agree with Eric. I was already aggressive in exercising when I had my disk herniation. Physical therapy and medication didn’t help. A simple surgical procedure to remove the herniation immediately cured it.

    Again, the advice should be tailored to the specific problem (i.e. a disk herniation has different indications than other back problems — and it appears that in Jason’s particular case avoiding surgery is a good idea), but claiming “under no circumstances get surgery” is pretty extreme.

  9. #9 Shecky R
    August 12, 2011

    pain relievers unfortunately only touch the symptoms and don’t deal with the underlying problem… a couple more suggestions, if they haven’t already been made: pilates to strengthen the abdominals (which have a lot to do with weak backs) and McKenzie exercises for the lower back itself (any orthopedist or phys. therapist, can explain them… or google).

  10. #10 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    August 12, 2011

    The soft tissue stuff shows up a lot better on MRI than on X-ray. Just something to keep in mid if the problem persists and you want to escalate treatment.

    It’s good to hear your doctor is discouraging surgery, he probably has his head screwed on straight.

    Muscle strength does not have a direct connection to the problem. The problem is something is impinging on a nerve. The anti-inflammatories shrink swelling and may thus reduce pressure on the nerve from swollen tissue. Muscle strength may help to maintain good posture, which is good. But if any particular exercise makes the pain worse, stop doing it.

    Or you could try a combination of chiropractic, homeopathy and accupuncture…

  11. #11 randyextry
    August 15, 2011

    As a medical doctor who specializes in spine disorders, I have some comments/advice to offer. #1 – you absolutely did not need an x-ray (unless there was some trauma – car accident, fall, etc.) #2 – be wary of everyone’s well meant advice; everyone is different and what worked for someone else will not necessarily work for you, and may make thing worse #3 – most doctors in the U.S. know absolutely nothing about low back pain and sciatica – it is generally ignored in medical school and residency; if it gets worse, find a specialist in non-surgical spine treatment (usually a physiatrist), and preferably a member of ISIS – the international spine intervention society #4 – it will probably get better regardless of treatment (it usually takes a while, though), but NSAIDs and physical therapy are a good idea #5 – I hope this is unnecessary but, avoid chiropractors! #6 – avoid prolonged sitting; if you are a back sleeper, try a pillow under your knees #7 – if the numbness is constant, and does not improve after two weeks, you should get an MRI.

  12. #12 Bayesian Bouffant, FCD
    August 15, 2011

    find a specialist in non-surgical spine treatment (usually a physiatrist), and preferably a member of ISIS

    Would a trip to the Isis Cafe be close enough?

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