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Low back pain: Personal stories

Tony P. is a 33-year old accountant who lives in Washington State.

When did you first start having back pain? How often do you get back pain?

I was 26 (7 years ago) when I had my first experience with severe back pain. I herniated a disk in my lower back. Ever since, I have had severe back pain about every 2 years. I have moderate back pain more frequently, 3 - 4 times per year.

What were you doing the very first time you developed back pain?

As strange as this may sound, I was standing at the stove cooking an omelet. I fell to the floor from the pain. I assume that the real cause for the pain was 2 days of heavy yard work.

What treatments have you used?

After herniating my disk, I was prescribed Motrin and physical therapy. Physical therapy included electrical impulse therapy (unsure if this is the actual name -- 2 - 3 pads were adhered to my lower back, which were attached to a device that sent a mild electrical current) and stretching/strengthening exercises.

What has not been effective?

Applying heat has never been effective for me.

What makes your back pain worse?

Heavy lifting like shoveling snow, repetitive motions like raking leaves, and running and jumping on hard surfaces, like playing basketball.

What makes your back pain better?

To treat my back pain, Motrin and ice packs work best. To prevent back pain, I exercise and stretch. Also, my back feels better in the morning if I have slept on my back or side versus my stomach.

Have you had to take time off work?

Yes, I was out of work for 2 weeks when I herniated my disk.

How much work have you missed altogether?

I have missed 2 - 3 weeks in the past 7 years. As mentioned above, 2 weeks when I herniated my disk and a day or two every couple years.

What do you do at work to make it better?

Taking Motrin and using ice packs at work. I also purchased a cushion specifically for lower back support, which makes my back feel better.

Have your employers been accommodating if your pain affects work and work affects your pain?

Work has been supportive when I have needed to take time off. My work doesn't seem to bring on back pain. I generally sit working at a computer for most of the day.

Do you exercise? How often?

I exercise sporadically. I will exercise regularly (3x per wk) for 2 - 3 months and then due to work, other life events, or lack of motivation, I will not exercise for a few months.

What types of exercises do you do?

In the past few years, I have focused on cardiovascular training (low impact - stairmaster and elliptical machine) and very limited strength training. My only strength training is focused on abdominals.

Does exercise help?

Yes, low impact exercise and stretching seems to help most.

What happens with your back if you don't exercise?

My back generally feels stiff and achy when I don't exercise. I move a bit slower in the morning. I don't feel my age -- I feel older.

Do you have any advice for other people with back pain?

Exercise regularly, know the catalysts of your back pain, and pay attention to some of your body's early warning signals. I have become fairly astute at knowing what activities will cause me back pain, as well as some of the early signals of on-coming severe back pain. Taking preventive actions such as exercising regularly, applying ice for the times that I have gone too far, and a day or two of rest may prevent a week or two weeks of severe, incapacitating pain.


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Review Date: 6/29/2011
Reviewed By: Andrew W. Piasecki, MD, Camden Bone and Joint, LLC, Orthopaedic Surgery/Sports Medicine, Camden, SC. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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