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18 year old son with severe back pain

lcarpenterlcarpenter Posts: 119
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:56 AM in Chronic Pain
My 18-year-old son has been suffering from severe back pain for the past 3 years. No history of back pain before then. He first hurt his back lifting weights in football, but just experienced mild/moderate pain at that time which didn't interfere with much except that he quit football. Then he was pitching in a baseball game that next spring and felt and heard a loud "pop" in his lower back then felt like needles were going up his spine. From then on his back pain has been severe and has affected every part of his life. At one point he was only sleeping a few hours a week due to the pain keeping him awake. He had to quit baseball (a truly heartbreaking decision), is always tired and hardly ever goes to do anything with friends, is very frustrated and tired of always being in pain. His last MRI showed a "moderate" anterolisthesis, but nothing that would explain the high level of pain he is experiencing. The neurosurgeon said that he is sure there was some type of injury, but nothing definite is showing up on the MRI's or CAT scans, or bone scans. We've tried everything we can think of: chiropractors, orthpedic surgeons, nuerosugeons, acupuncture, physical therapy, deep muscle massage, 3 new mattresses, exercise/no exercise, pain management. He has had 3 Rhisodomys with only patial pain relief. Does anyone have any suggestions? I'm very worried about him and am out of ideas.


  • Hey there, so sorry to hear your son is in such pain at a young age. Yeah, a pop sounds painful. I heard/felt a pop when I ruptured my disc.

    What type of doctor has your son seen? A GP or a specialist? I only ask b/c you want to be sure you are seeing a fellowship trained orthopedic spine surgeon or a neurosurgeon. Looks like you have.

    Has the specialist indicated other tests? There are tests that can be done to see which level the pain is being caused from when typical MRI doesn't. I forget what they are called.

    the other idea is to get a remote opinion from a specialty hospital. I had the eCleveland clinic do one for me...sent all my records in under the agreement of my local doctor to help with the diagnosis and recommended treatment options.

    Sounds like the meds are probably making him very tired and withdrawn. Chronic pain sucks! I have daily pain but have learned to differentiate between 'normal' pain and elevated levels.

    Don't give up on finding a solution...sounds like an injury indeed.

    Could he have issues with his hips? they can cause some back pain too. Just trying to see if there's another angle.

    A dermatome map will show you which limbs are effected by which disc level.

    Good luck.
  • pain is very hard to measure .what hurts me may not hurt you .so we should never judge anyone when they say there in pain ..anyway i would get your son to another consultant and whilst your waiting you my want to try a TENS unit i use mine all the time .as for mattresses again very subjective .what works for some ..no good for others .my wife and i have spent thousands on beds including the top end tempur and we both hated it .we now have twin electrical adjustable beds with memory foam/sprung combination mattress .again i am sorry about your son .my girl was 14 when her back went it took 12 month to get a diagnosis ..she is now 15 and has L5 bulge it flare up and down and at the moment she is ok but i am sure by the time she is 30 she will have been under the knife! which brings me to consultants ..should your Son need an operation ..make sure you get a highly recommended consultant to do the work .i speak from bitter experience !! good luck
    tony {UK}
    1997 laminectomy
    2007 repeat laminectomy and discectomy L4/L5
    2011 ALIF {L4/L5/S1}
    2012 ? bowel problems .still under investigation
    2014 bladder operation may 19th 2014
  • Hi and welcome to spine-health. As another young person with pain I know a lot of the feelings he is having and the pain he is going through.

    My pain also started mild-moderate with severe pain every so often. The severe pain became more and more frequent until it was constantly severe.

    Sometimes a disc bulges, then it herniates a little, and then more and more until it is pushing on a nerve or the spinal fluid/cord.

    How long ago was his most recent MRI?

    Have you gotten a second opinion from another neurosurgeon or ortho-surgeon? Some doctors feel that because we are young, it really can't be that bad.. But trust me... It can be bad.

    I hope he can get some relief soon.


    ACDF C4-5 June 23rd, 2011

    Another surgery in the near future. I am 26 years old.

    Current Meds- Norco 7.5/325, Cymbalta 60mg, Gabapentin, Adderall 20mg
  • Thank you both SO MUCH for the information. It also just helps knowing that others are out there that understand. I did not know that you could get a remote opinion. That sounds like a great idea. I had thought about taking him somewhere out of state to get another evaluation, but he is SO sick of doctor's offices and all the waiting and pain from sitting as well as the initial "we're going to figure it out" that ALWAYS leads to "sorry son, there's nothing we can do. Just go out there and do the best you can.", that I don't think he'd even agree to go. Consulting someone without traveling would be great. We may try the tens again. I'd forgotten about those. He used one early on, but it was while he was doing some pretty intense physical therapy and the pain from that overshadowed everything. Now that he's not in PT, it might help. Anyone ever heard of neurotherapy or prolotherapy? BTW we finally ended up getting a Sleep Number bed and it really did help. He is able to sleep now - first time in 3 years.
  • Thank you so much Donnabe. I'm so sorry you've had to deal with pain so long, too at such a young age. It really takes your life away from you. Yes, we've been to numerous specialists. Basically I took him to anyone that was recommended to us. His last MRI was in May. It showed that his disk is a little more out of place, but not much. His GP, who is the most intelligent, caring man I know thinks that there must have been a ligament tear initally that damaged nerves which are now causing the pain. Nothing that will show up on an MRI and nothing that anyone has been able to do anything about. We just dropped my son off at college last week and crossing my fingers that he can make it, but not sure. He was calling me last night asking when he could have another rhisodomy (sp?) because his back was killing him. He said his roommate was wanting to go out and he just didn't feel like it :( .
  • Have you taken your son to a neurologist yet? Some times when the surgeons cannot pinpoint the source of pain and discomfort, a neurologist can.

    Wishing you the best of luck.

  • Thank you haglandc. Yes, we've been to two neurologists. They weren't able to pinpoint the problem with the tests they ordered, but also said that no one would consider surgery for a 16-yr-old (his age at the time)and any of the more extensive tests would only be done if considering surgery.
  • Has anyone heard of neurotherapy or prolotherapy?
  • Removed by Tam spam user
  • edited by Tam for advertisements. Sorry to the original poster for all the spam and advertisements your getting.
  • our place to recommend or condemn surgery for your son or anyone on this site.

    This is a support forum, not a forum with medical professional advice.

    I worked with someone who had a 2 level fusion at 19 due to spondylolisthesis from playing volleyball. She is 9 years postop and doing great. Surgery is not for everyone however.

    Have you seen a neurosurgeon or a spine-fellowship trained orthopedic surgeon? Do you due diligience and get as many opinions as you need to make the right decision for your son.

    Good luck,

  • edited by Tam for advertisements.
  • SPAM! Reported for previous post.

    Sorry about you son. The only thing I would say is to find another specialist and get another set of eyes on things.

    Finding the proper diagnosis and treatment can take a very long time. Please try to help your son stay positive and patient.

    Good luck,

  • You have had several solicitations on your thread. Our moderators are great to remove these, as they are not allowed on the forum.

  • Thank you JulieA and Sleeprgirl.
  • Scared to death. I've been reading a lot lately, probably not the best idea, but I'm almost obsessed with finding an answer for my son. I keep seeing references to "permanent" nerve damage and irreversible conditions caused by various back complications. How does one avoid this??? Is there anything that we can do to treat WHATEVER is wrong with his back to prevent permanent nerve damage? Is the damage already done? Is his life over at 18??? Very, very scared mom!
  • I was wondering what exact tests your son has had to date? And did you get a copy of all of the films (not just the reports?)...

    With my lumbar spine I had retrololistsis (sp). The vertabra were sliding backward alot with any movement on my part. All of my x-rays and mri's were performed with me laying flat.

    My NS finally ordered the flexion extension x-ray and when I went in for the follow up, he said well I don't know what to tell you the report is normal.... I had been looking at the films and knew they were not normal. I put them on the light box and pinted to a almost completely dislocated vertabrae (L5/S1)... My NS your right that is certainly not normal you need a fusion right away. Every time I moved these vertabrae moved and pushed what ever little bit of disc I had left into the canal. My Bones were rubbing togthere (you could hear it every time I bent over)....

    I think this would be worthy of investigation since your son has a little anterlolisthesis. I still think you need to find another NS/OS. Someone who will help you get to the bottom of things and doesn't walk away if they get a little frusterated.

    Prolotherapy isn't a lot of fun. I consider it torture- did it once what a nightmare. Does he have a tens unit? Tell your son my NS had 17 spinal surgeries before he was 21- he was injured in football at age 15 (it led him into his specialty). While it is true many would never consider surgical treatment at a young age, some times it is necessary.

    There is hope and he will get proper treatment eventually some times this stuff is really hard to figure out.

    I am in agreement with Anslen (the annular tears hurt like h3ll). I have 2 of them in my T-spine last time I read my MRI report.

  • He is the best doctor I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and he is a NS! Most are arrogant. We have discussed the bed side mannor of some of his co-workers. He doesn't know why so many behave the way they do.

    Now, if his office staff were as nice as him my life would be much better.

  • 3 years of pain, I'm kind of in the same deal. Going for consultations soon though. Nothing on the MRI showed that there should be that much pain?
  • Thank you so much for the information anelsen and julie. In answer to some of the questions: We've had many, many sets of x-rays looking at different things. The only thing that really shows up on them is the retrolisthesis (which the NR says could only be caused by some type of injury) and the fact that only one side (at the sacrum) is "fused" (not sure why - born that way - ?). He's had 2 sets of CAT scans, a bone scan, 3 MRI's (one with contrast and 2 without). We have the "films/discs" for all of them in addition to the reports. I have no idea how to read them, but they've been looked at my numerous doctors. Nothing really different showing up on them except some osteoarthritis that the doc says could be due to the excessive "movement" in his spine. All I know is that he never had back trouble at all until he "hurt" his back lifting weights in football at 15. None of the docs have said anything about an annular tear. We've been to 6 different Orthopedic Surgeons (including one of the most recommended in the state) and two different Neurosurgeons. I truly don't know where to turn from here. Every single one of them
    says there is nothing they can do. So...any suggestions would be appreciated. As all of you understand, this has really affected his life :(.
  • Thank you so much Anelsen15. Your information/suggestions are so helpful! Sounds like prolotherapy is not something we want to try. The last thing he needs is more pain. At least with the Rhyzodomy the pain is followed by some relief (if only partial and temporary) in a week or so. Yes, this has been incredibly hard on my son. His pain was really bad starting just before he turned 16. No help, no pain relief at all until he started going to his PM last November (at 17 1/2). Honestly, he hasn't been himself in over 2 years. How I'd love to have my real son back!!! We've tried a couple of therapists, but they just kept harping on the fact that he will get "hooked" on drugs if he takes opiods. The alternative, in our experience, were nights upon nights of no sleep, inability to function or go to school, and a whole host of secondary physical and emotional symptoms. What a nightmare! And, add to all this is the fact that he is 18. At this point he is pretty much refusing to do anything - he's had ENOUGH! He says no more physical therapy because it doesn't help. No more doctors because they all say that they'll figure it out and then just end up saying they can't do anything. And no more suggestions from mom (I'm still one of the stupidest human beings on the face of the earth as far as he is concerned). :((( On one hand I'd like to get a definitive diagnosis and then on the other hand I'm afraid of what it might be. But...no one has been able to tell us what's going on yet, so ... Again, thank everyone for all the responses.
  • Yes, I am soooo worried - constantly. Finding help for my son is my obsession at this point. I don't think that anyone who hasn't experienced chronic back pain themselves or lived with someone who has it can understand what a nightmare it is. As for why the doctors say they can't help - each one has looked at his x-rays, MRI's, CAT scans, etc. and said that there are some "little" things wrong with his spine, but nothing that can be corrected and nothing that they can see that would explain his level of pain. The last ortho we went to said that his pain is just due to the extra movement of his spine and that the likelihood that he would get any relief from a fusion (the surgery that would address this) is very, very slim. But, if his spine "movement" is caused by something he's had since birth, why did he have absolutely no back trouble until he injured his back in football? Our primary care doc, who is the best person in the world (he even gave my son his cell phone number and told him to call him any time he needed to, day or night - wow!) says that there is an injury somewhere, but that the imaging we currently have is just not able to pick up whatever it is. He thinks his pain is due to nerve damage, but where or what is causing that - who knows??? I think the docs believe him, especially when they see everything he's had to give up. They are all very sympathetic in the beginning (the first one or two visits) then they get much less "friendly" as time goes on. By the time we get to the inevitable last visit when they tell him he'll just have to go figure out how to live as good a life as he can under the circumstances, they seem almost angry with us. What's that all about? Are they just frustrated that they can't help? I don't know, but it seems like that happens every time. He's tried several different non-opiod medications, but hasn't been able to get past the initial side effects yet. One of the meds made him so upset that he threw them out the car window - he said he' NEVER take anything like that again - it scared him. I know that a lot of these meds have different side effects for young patients. Anyway, he is the most "normal" and functions the best on his pain med. I'm always researching, so anyone reading this that has any suggestions for something to research or someplace to try, let me know. Anelsen15 - thank you so much for your understanding. As a young back pain sufferer, you understand so much. I don't know how my son copes with all this either. Our family doc says that he is amazed that my son has done as well as he has. He says he's coped better than a lot of adults he knows. I don't know, he's just always been one of the happiest, most positive kids I've ever seen. This is really wearing on him though. As his mom I seem to be the target of all his anger and frustration. :( It's definately better than having him take it out in other ways, though. Thanks again everyone!
  • I'm very sorry to hear about your son back pain and all the efforts you've made to try to help him.

    I've lived with back pain for over 20 years now. Yes, I have had surgery, and done just about every treatment and taken just about every medication out there.

    I learned I'm very sensitive to medication and most of them have side affects that I can't live with.

    First, I would encourage you to keep trying to find out what is causing the pain. It's taken me over 10 years to find doctors and technologies that have provided at least a few answers. Just having some idea of what's wrong has helped me to continue to search for things that help.

    So what has helped. It may sound strange but exercise is very important for me as it helps keep the overall pain level down just a bit. It does hurt at the time but I've leaned that it does help reduce the overall level. I've seen a lot of PT's and gleaned ideas from each one until I have a program that work and know how to modify it as needed.

    I have done the trials for both a spine stimulator and a pain pump. Neither brought a significant level of pain reduction for me. Many people do find both very helpful.

    Acupuncture helps. I've found a good one and it is one of several things that drops the pain just a little.

    Meditation helps. I've learned a lot of methods and done biofeedback so I have a good list of tool to help me cope. This really helps with the depression that goes with chronic pain.

    Eating a healthy diet and keeping my weight down helps just a little.

    Trying to get good quality sleep helps. I still can't sleep for very long but I've learned to nap during the day to get a little more rest. This helps with both the pain and depression.

    I walk every day. This gives me some sunshine with much needed vitamin D, helps calm the body and actually helps to reduce the depression.

    I get massage every couple weeks and that can be helpful too. I don't get any big pain relief from it but it is a part of taking good care of myself and working on any issue that might contribute to more pain.

    All of these things and much more go into doing a lot of little things to bring down the pain just a little. I still have what is considered a high level of pain but at least I have ways to manage it. Yes, there are times where I do have to use strong pain meds (that make me ill) but if I stay with my program I can keep those flair-up to a minimum.

    I know there is no fix or cure for my pain. I keep focused on maintaining a healthy life style and keep looking for new treatments, medication and therapies as they develop. It's not the end of the world, to live in pain, but you do have to learn how to live with it.

    Good luck!

  • Finally some useful information! MRI showing bone spurs at L5-S1 compressing exiting nerve roots. Doctor says this is very painful (duh) and would be cause to consider surgery in an older person - still probably not in a teenager. However, he has recommended some more sophisticated MRI's that would be done in different positions to give us more detailed info. Not sure that this will change anything treatment-wise, but at least we finally have an explanation for what has been giving him such pain for 3 1/2 years!
  • I had a dr. telling me for about three and a half years that my back pain was "in my head", that I "just can't handle pain very well", that I "must be depressed; that is where you pain is coming from", etc.
    My first MRI was lay down. My last MRI was an upright MRI. HUGE difference in the results.
    So, for anyone whose regular MRI shows "normal, or "mild bulge", yet you are still in back hell.... Get in for the upright MRI!!!
    I hope your son can find some help long term. He is sure lucky to have a fantastic and caring Mom like you! Learning all this "back stuff" is-- well, huge. Lots of info.
    And you nailed it on the head in your last post-- you have to be your own advocate. :)
  • Thank you so much Sally711. I hope that we can get some more information with a different type of MRI. It helps so much to hear your information and suggestions - maybe we're on the right track afterall - finally. And yes, we've been told all those things too. One of his first doctors wanted to know if he was having problems at home (abuse) or if his parents' marriage was okay. Yeah, that's why he rocks in pain every night before he falls into an exhaused hour or so of sleep and has had to give up everything he loves to do in his life. Why is it that even doctors who specialize in back/spine conditions don't believe you when you say you're in severe pain? Why won't they keep looking for the real reason instead of just telling you that it's all in your head? And, it's one thing to do all that to an adult, but a kid is so vulnerable and naturally believes what an adult, especailly a doctor, says. So they start thinking that maybe there is something wrong with them and not their back. I get so mad whenever I think of all the things that adults have done to him over the last 3 years. Sorry, just had to vent a little.
  • Not True... Some doctors and surgeons believe you :) My NS did and investigated to get to the bottom of it.

    My PCP didn't get really excited when this whole thing started back in 2007. I now only see her for general stuff- yearly exams etc. I do have my other doctors keep her in the loop and when I see her. I give her my opinions on the personalities of the various doctors I have seen and wasted money on and what doctors I like and why. If I can spare another person from being treated like CRAP or being RIPPED OFF I will :)

    I am soo glad your son is getting some proper treatment. I want you to know that just bc they say no surgery now doesn't mean in 6-9 months they wont reconsider. I imagine they will run all of the usual treatments on him and if that all fails I am almost certain they will offer surgery.

    Now that you have a good diagnosis you can look for other opinions on treatment and care if your son desires to do so. I am sure he is sick of doctors as much as the rest of us. Poor Kid >:D<

    My NS admits that annual tears can be very painful- he said that mine is the reason I have bone edema on my T7-8. He said it is a reaction to the chemicals in the disc- he said the disc will need to be completely removed to stop the pain.

    Anyways I am happy that they found something worthy of his pain and discomfort and that he will start getting some relief.

  • Thanks Julie! Your information/support helps a lot. Good luck to you also :) .
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