If You Know Anything About Backs... What's Wrong With Mine?

I don’t have major back pain. But I do have a minor amount of low back/sacral pain often, and sciatica sometimes pretty severely- enough that I take a couple of ibuprofen most nights before bed, because even if it doesn’t hurt right then, there’s a good chance it will start while I’m sleeping and wake me up. Once every couple of years, I will have extreme low back pain- once when it happened I took all of my ibuprofen and drove to the pharmacy to get more, and it hurt so much that I came thisclose to pulling over and calling 911. I made it home, but did end up going to the ER later that night, and a shot of morphine calmed it right down.

So it’s not THAT bad, but I do sometimes get tingling up my neck and face, if that has anything to do with it. I saw my doctor for something else last week, and asked if we could just find out what’s wrong, and even if I don’t do anything about it, at least I’d know. So I had an xray. Haven’t heard from the doctor yet, but thanks to the handy dandy patient portal, I can see my xray results online. It says essentially degenerative changes, especially L5-S1. So, arthritis? Basically, normal for my age.

What do I do with this? Continue just taking the ibuprofen on a daily basis? Ask for an MRI? Go to physical therapy? It must be a nerve impingement or whatever, right? I work in the medical field but not in backs. I really don’t want to deal with this for the rest of my life, even as minor as it sounds. I’d like to be pain-free, thank you very much.

Also, if you’re so smart, what could cause “calcifications overlying the right abdomen, of unknown etiology”? That kind of scares me.

Any ideas of things to ask or tell my doctor when she does call would be welcome.

Is the sciatica due to irritation at the spine?

I don’t know. I just know it starts in my low back or hip, either side, and goes down the leg.

Try Alleve instead of the ibuprofin. It’s 12 hour medication instead of 4 so it might help you get through the night.

I take two Alleve a day otherwise my knees come down with Tin Woodsman Syndrome.

Not a doctor, but the ‘calcification’ comment sets off an alarm. You may want to ask if they will do an ultrasound in that area, as a clogged abdominal artery is a Really Bad Thing.

That’s what I scared myself into thinking it is. I will definitely ask about it.

Regarding the abdominal calcification- my doctor’s office called me last week to give me the xray results (see an orthopedist) and I asked about the calcification thing. They just called to tell me to come in tomorrow to discuss it and get referred out for testing. Dr. Google does indeed tell me that this could be a very bad thing.

It means it will probably heal up with L5-S1 fused.
People have that sort of thing without even knowing.

You used the word arthritis bare - theres many types… its impossible to guess which is or isn’t there. But anyway, you can rest easy knowing that most likely it is not arthritis as you know it, its more like osteoporosis, or congenital weakness, but healing.

See the doctor.

You could spend 6 hours googling every term in the radiologist’s report, then a year in crash courses in spinal orthopedia.
And still not know what is going on.

I have osteoarthritis - a classic degenerative disease.

The calcification contraindicates osteoarthritis, but does not specify exactly what is going on and (more importantly) how quickly.

See Orthopedist. If that one fiddle-farts around, see another.

Fusion surgery is not the first course of action.

(I have a 2 page radiologist report from a lumbar MRI - I keep trying to hack through it, but the devil is in the details, and there are a bunch of them in this report).

Could there be a problem with the way you’re sleeping (the position of your body or your bed; the condition or type of your mattress)?

I’m not even worried about my back anymore, but that’s probably a nerve thing. The thing now is that the xray showed calcification overlying my right abdomen, of unknown cause, which Dr. Google tells me could be atherosclerosis of my abdominal artery, which often causes heart attacks and strokes.

How do you know it would be in an artery? For s&g I Googled abdominal calcification and hit a website with a couple dozen causes. Only one was the abdominal aorta.

Have you seen the X-ray? Have you asked?

If you are worried and your doc is not walking you through the testing and diagnoses, it may be time for a new doc.

I have had no trouble getting to at least see the image and have a copy of radiologist’s report.

I haven’t aksed for a JPEG of the images, but would expect them to be provided within a week.

I am 65 and learning more about medicine than I ever wanted to know…

I went to the doctor today. We looked at the film together, and it doesn’t appear to be the aorta- it’s to the right and not in the middle. Yes, I had freaked myself out about it being the aorta. I have a strong family history of early heart disease, and it’s always been a fear of mine, and so it played right into that. But no, ot appears to be in the kidney or liver, which doesn’t freak me out at all. I will probably be sent for a CT scan to see what it is.

As a point of reference, you wouldn’t get JPEG images. Medical images (CT, MRI, ultrasound and plain Xrays) are all distributed in a universal format called DICOM. Without exception, every time I’ve gone in for a scan, I’ve asked for a disc and got one in a few minutes. Pro tip: Ask the tech doing your scan for the CD. They’re much more likely to just do it, whereas the front desk scheduling people will want you to fill out forms and come back in three days.

More often than not, in my experience, when the imaging folks give you a CD of your images, there will be a basic DICOM viewer for Windows on the disc. If you have a Mac, the best option is a free app called Osirix. If you need a Windows-based viewer, the one from Philips is my favorite.

You really don’t want to know how I initially mis-read the title of this post :eek:


I have had pain in almost the exact same place on the back (but luckily without the leg pain). Mine is due to compression fractures of the L1-L4. I was thrown off a horse at the canter depart in the 80s.

Several things worked for me over time.

  1. Improving my posture. I have a desk job and for 6 weeks I did everything the posture Nazis said to do, plus I when I walked I kept very correct posture. It was 6 weeks of misery, then one day I woke up and the pain was gone. This worked for several years.
  2. Eventually, I had to got to a PT for a hip issue that also irritated my back. She gave me a series of exercises to do twice a day. Which I did religiously for 5 months. It completely restructured something in my back and I’m back to pain free again.
  3. I’ve taken OTC meds, but I’ve tried to avoid the stronger stuff as a long term solution. It ends up being a losing game because eventually they don’t work anymore and you have to find something else.
  4. Lifestyle changes such as weight loss can be very helpful. Exercise, good posture, maintaining my weight and walking have done me good.

If you do decide to go to a PT, try and get one that structures a program with just stretches with bands and straps (no weights) for home. You can carry bands and a strap on trips or even to the office and do some stretches discreetly.