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.