5 Tips for Pain Relief: What to Do When Your Back Hurts

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 1.16.24 PMWhen I hurt my back in December, I asked the Internet what to do and the answer was nothing. Well, almost nothing as everyone seemed to say to alternative ice and hot, while taking it easy for a few days or weeks as it heals itself. Backs always heal themselves, the Internet said, but I found that wasn’t quite true. If you hurt your back, here’s my absolutely non-professional advice on what to do.

1. Put ice on it asap. I missed this step until it was too late. I hurt my back preparing for a holiday party, which meant there wasn’t time to sit down with an ice pack. That was a mistake, which was clear the next morning when I couldn’t move without crying.

2. Take ibuprofen. This I did, but I only took two, which my doctor later told me was too low a dose to really help. She had me up to four Advil twice a day.

3. Heat it up! My heating pad quickly became my best friend. The heat loosened my back up and helped with the pain.

4. Get to your doctor! The Internet insisted this was pointless because most back injuries heal themselves, but on day five, when things were getting worse and even the tiniest moves had me screaming in pain, I called the doctor, and my only regret is that I didn’t call sooner. Luckily I didn’t need x-rays or an MRI because my spine wasn’t bothered by manipulation, and my doctor could feel the tear in my back. Even I could feel the damage in my back with my hand. My doctor prescribed a muscle relaxant, Advil, a heat pack, and physical therapy.

The key, my doctor said, was to make sure my back healed properly or else this could easily turn into a chronic problem.

5. Get physical therapy. This part could be skipped if you have an exercise plan, but physical therapy had two key components that helped tremendously: a massage and electrical stimulation. My appointments began with a massage to loosen the muscles on both sides of my spine, and spinal pressure to keep my backbone from stiffening. After that, I did my exercises, then I ended with heating pads and electrical stimulation to help strengthen my back muscles.

I was in physical therapy for three weeks, ending one month after my injury. I was still in tons of pain, but I had improved a lot, and was told I could try to get back on the treadmill, but only for a short amount of time and I had to walk slowly. Each morning I sat with the heating pad for 20 minutes before I was loose enough to shower and gently try a few of my exercises. Walking on the treadmill hurt, thus I put that off for another week or two.

The magical six-week mark came and went and I wasn’t better. The Internet said most back injuries go away in 6-8 weeks, but that wasn’t the case for me. I was still taking Advil, still doing my exercises, still being incredibly careful, and still reliant on my heating pad. Discouragement was setting in until I read the best advice the Internet had to offer. It was a government document, but after it read nothing like an American government document, I realized it was from Scotland. The bottom line was to get off your butt and move. The document said that if you wait to return to work or activities until your back is 100% better, then your back will never be 100% better. Your back heals though movement, not through rest. Of course, taking it easy is important right after the injury, but after that, backs need to move. This was my a-ha moment. This was my permission to push past the pain from stiffness and once I did, I found my back improved fast.

Now I am three months out from my injury, and while not 100%, I’m definitely about 97% and climbing. I still use the heating pad a few times a week to stay loose and do my exercises about the same, while finally getting back to full speed on the treadmill. I make sure not to stay in any position, especially seated, for too long, and I take breaks to get up, walk, and stretch. Tearing a muscle is intensely painful and it made me feel like a 90-year-old in need of a walker. Truly, 90 years could probably walk faster than I could at the time. This morning, I bent down under the counter on the backside of our kitchen island to pull out a heavy juicer. It was a simple act, but there was no way that I could have done it a month ago.

P.S. I am not a doctor, even though I lied once on a magazine subscription and used Dr. as an honorific. I wrote this because back in December, I never saw anything that encouraged me to go to the doctor or was honest that it’s a long haul back to healthy.

My Craigslist Soul Mate

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I’m not Julie, but I kinda am. Dog stalking is a hard habit to break.

Year-Ending R&R & Rx

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The plan was to have a relaxing week following Christmas, but what I didn’t know is that it was going to be medically ordered. When cleaning on the Sunday before Christmas, I had been dusting the baseboards (the downside of having large, thick, “elegant” – our builder’s word – baseboards is that they collect a lot of dust) and in a rush, went to get the last dusty spot with a twist, bend, reach, and swoop move that made my back pop. Five days later, I could barely move and it was only getting worse, which was when I called the doctor.

The good news is that a heavy heaping of Advil with a muscle spasm chaser kills any anxiety. I usually itch to get moving to accomplish something, but with the meds, I can barely stay awake. Loaf life is where it is at. We saw four movies (three in the theater and one that’s been on our DVR for six months), I read two books, and I watched about 20 episodes of How I Met Your Mother because all I could do was sit. I felt so complacent that I got excited by a marathon of America’s Funniest Home Videos.  At one point, Sesame Street started looking good. I used phrases like, “real good” to describe anything better than okay. For a moment, I thought that like me, the rest of the world concluded Hanson’s Mmm Bop should be brought back and celebrated as a timeless classic. Also, I started to get a little too mushy in love with Google Shopping Express. Thankfully I couldn’t get up to open the door or each of the delivery drivers would have gotten long, awkward hugs from me. This is my brain on drugs.

My back is getting better and I’ve cut back on the meds, which means fewer “real goods,” but it means I’m going into 2014 rested, with a clear mind, and a back that will be stronger than ever, thanks to doctor-ordered physical therapy. It’s all really good from here.

September May Have Gotten Off Track

It’s not October, but I’m going to pretend that it is. October is lookin’ good and I can’t wait for it to start. September wasn’t bad, but it was busy. Each week since my kids have started school, I’ve thought that this is the week that my schedule normalizes, when really, this is normal and sometimes it’s productive and good, and other times it’s all bletch.

This was the good: the sweet new niece, one kid off for a week of camping with school, back to school where I actually had warm cookies awaiting their return home, and it began with crabbing in Oregon.

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Then there were moments of feeling like the world was on fire. Even the seemingly small things, like software updates that seemed to happen at once for every program I use, knocked me around. More time than I wish was spent listening to seven year olds dissect the depressing romantic life of Jon from Garfield.

Lessons were learned, starting with not updating all important tech at once, things were quit, focus was refreshed, and priorities were shifted. This week, all of the notebooks, planners, schedules, and lists are out and ready. My favorite time of year is here, and without the chaos of the remodel this year, we won’t miss it.

Though No Candy Corn, Fall has Unofficially Begun

tippytoes-pencils-1Things did not go according to my plans this weekend, which flat-out sucks. I’ve been looking forward to this weekend for a year, and definitely since February when the 49ers lost the Superbowl. We missed the football season last year due to the remodel. Just typing that gets me angry with our builder, who was so late, he made us miss our traditional Christmas and our annual Superbowl party. Grrr.

This was the big weekend, yet I wasn’t feeling well and my heart wasn’t into it. I sat and watched, but felt more like I was in a coma. I yelled at the TV once during the 49ers game, only once, which is a clear sign something was amiss.

We did manage to mark the last day of summer vacation with s’mores. Rocket had been asking about s’mores since our August camping trip because we only had marshmallows (don’t blame me, I’m not the mom in charge of dessert), and with only seconds on the clock, we got Rocket’s symbol of summer crossed off our list.

Though it’s still our summer, I ran to Target to grab some bags of candy corn to use for decor (and probably to emotionally eat) and – sit down for this – they did not have their Halloween stuff out. Why? WHY? Doesn’t the Halloween stuff normally hit the shelves in August, allowing everyone to complain about corporations over commercializing holidays by shoving seasonally colored Peeps down our throats weeks too soon? There were candy corn flavored Oreos and candy corn flavored M&Ms, but no actual candy corn. Oh America, why sully candy corn? It’s perfect on its own. My jar in question still is filled with summertime gum balls.

One kid started school today and the other starts tomorrow, then marks the time of year where I say, “It’s already 3 p.m.?” nearly every day. This weekend I was reminded that time slows down most when your kid is playing goalie or when you favorite football time is being challenged with only a minute left in the game. School days, though, they race by.