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Teenager with chronic thoracic back pain for 2+ years.

LahiweLLahiwe Posts: 1
edited 03/02/2015 - 8:59 PM in Chronic Pain
Hello everyone. I am new to this forum and really in great need of some advice. I am a freshman in college, and I have had chronic pain in my mid-back region ever since my junior year of high school. It seems to have started when I pulled a muscle in my back once while carrying a heavy box. It didn't hurt too much at the time and the pain seemed to fade, but by the next day, the injured area, which was close to the side of my spine, was throbbing with pain. Over the next several weeks, my back muscles began to spasm so badly that my whole back was rigid.

I went to several doctors and underwent a series of tests. One doctor did an x-ray said I had minor scoliosis and a possible developing herniated disc in my lower back, but neither of these things were ever confirmed by any other doctor I went to, and they all looked at the same x-rays. I was tested for rheumatoid arthritis, given a CT scan which showed no abnormalities, and prescribed many medications--Tylenol 3, a muscle relaxant, and Gabapentin, a nerve medication. I was prescribed physical therapy twice--at the first location, I went for about two months and it didn't help any. At the second location, I went for a little over four months twice a week, and this gradually helped as long as I kept going often and did the prescribed exercises at home. Though the pain was eased, however, it never completely went away.

In April of last year, the recurrent pain returned. Once again my back muscles would start going into painful spasms and making my whole back rigid. However, it has worsened when it occurs--now when I'm in the worst part of a spasm, the spasm extends into the muscles of my neck, collarbone, and chest, making breathing difficult. I have had to go to the hospital several times for anxiety attacks related to my inability to breathe deeply during these spasms. I generally have a spasm about once a week that subsides and then flares up again usually on the weekend.

I've noticed some features of my back pain that have appeared over the years. In the first several months, I remember feeling a stitch or tear-like sensation at my ribs near my spine on the right side of my body. I could feel it every time I turned.
that sensation has gone away, but I still feel a slight restrictiveness in that area. At the height of my pain in junior year, my back was so rigid that I could not turn or bend down. This has also subsided, but it's still very difficult and painful to move when my back is spasming. I have a near permanent feeling of stiffness in my upper back. When the spasms are really bad, I feel ropes or wires of pain cris-crossing my entire back, and my left shoulderblade gets loose and painful. The muscles are also hard to the touch. In order to relieve the pain, I try twisting around or doing the "cat camel" stretch my therapist gave me, and I often hear loud cracking noises coming from my back.

This chronic pain has lowered my quality of life quite a bit. I cannot sit in office chairs (or many other types of chairs, really) for very long (sitting compounds the pain more than anything else), which means I cannot do my homework at my desk in my room at school. I must always seek out a place to study that can accommodate my back--generally this means a couch, or anything else with a lot of cushioning at the back. I cannot carry more than five pounds in a backpack--anything over that I must carry using a rolling bag. I often have to take the elevator instead of using the stairs. I have to use a special memory foam pillow, I sleep on a foam mattress, and back at home I must use a Sleep Number bed. Many nights, my pain keeps me from going to sleep. I use ThermaCare pads, a traditional heating pad, and even a TENS machine, not to mention all the muscle relaxants and pain meds I've been on before. I know I don't get enough exercise, but I am wary of starting an exercise regimen on my own because I remember my physical therapist telling me long ago that doing certain stretches might actually damage the injury further. In general, I know being active and stretching has helped me in the past, so I would really like to know if there are certain exercises I can do that will help and not exacerbate my pain.

I really hope someone can give me some assistance. Thank you.


  • LizLiz Posts: 7,832
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    Liz, Spine-health Moderator

    Spinal stenosis since 1995
    Lumber decompression surgery S1 L5-L3[1996]
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  • Hiya,

    I'm the UK there is a treatment at a hospital in London which helps chromic pain suffers to try and cope and lead a normal life. It is all about getting out of your own way and doing despite the pain. Now, having done it and live through it since April I can say that it is bloody hard. When we were there however we eat was a,along, the most exercise I have done in years.

    I am now 27 and had the accident when I was 24. Three years of getting used to this has taken its told physically and mentally and on my family. The exercises that they recommended were basically any excuses you feel up to. It is starting a new benchmark. Ignore what you could do and start now. So even if it is just stretches when sat in your chair, lying on the floor rolling side to side. A bit of yoga (but only what you can manage) leg strengthening activities, arm strengthening activities, watching. Anyway thing, just gets your body moving.

    I have just joined a gym now, only managed one trip and a swim but the swim helped a lot. But again it is learning your li,it's! Do not swim 40 lengths then be crippled for days. Pace yourself and build up,

    It is going to be a slow process and that is the hardest part to get used to. I play badminton, me all, gym, swimming, Pilates, aerobics and that is a no go FOR NOW!!!!

    I hope that helps x
  • Hello,

    I am not sure if I can help, but I can tell you what I have done, and I am in a similar situation. I have all of the same symptoms you speak of. I have had the same tests and more. They did find herniated disks in my thoracic area, however not herniated enough to explain all the symptoms. So far I have seen my GP, two Chiropractors, four Physiotherapists, two Sports MD's, one Acupuncturist, and now work with my second PM, Chiro and Physio regularly.

    Through the PM I have had many different injections, but the one that seems to be helping the most is Prolotherapy. The short version of my diagnosis is that I have stretched the ligaments that hold my ribs in place. There is an actual term for it however I can't remember what it is.

    Currently, and for the last many months, I an following this treatment plan:

    Chiro 1 to 3 times a week as required

    Physion: biweekly

    Prolo injections: once every 4 to 6 weeks.

    When I have prolotherapy injections, I have my ribs set by my Chiro 1 hour or less prior to the injections. The theory is that they need to be perfectly aligned so that when the prolo is injected the ligaments react around the correct alignment.

    It was a LONG road to get me to this treatment plan. This is not a common treatment, and the PM that I have actually has patients from all over the country travelling from all over this part of the country for this. He has used this specific treatment regiment on patients in the past with great success. I have noticed slow but definite improvement since starting this regimen.

    All of that being said I also have new limitations on my life and especially on where and how long I sit. The restrictions have improved greatly but I suspect will always be there to some degree. Some on the adjustments I have made are:

    I now have a standing desk not only in my office but also at home.

    I eat at the kitchen island standing, and had it changed to add seating so I am still eating with my family.

    I carry a small but functional back support pillow everywhere I go. This allows me to still go out for dinner or to a movie every once in a while. It does not complete eliminate the discomfort that comes from sitting but it sure does help.

    I know that you are young and in school so sitting in horrible chairs is a must but maybe you can find a pillow that helps you. I had to try many different ones and literally have a rejected pillow graveyard but I did finally find one.

    The only other thing I may be able to offer is ditch the heat. If not altogether than at least avoid putting it directly on your spine or on the front where your ribs meet (if you have pain there also). Try ice, it doesn't give that warm fuzzy feeling, and you don't want to use it on muscles too much, but if you can ice out some of the joint inflammation your muscles may settle a bit.

    Hope this helps!

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