Recurrent Middle Back Spasms

I am a 49 year old female who suffers from recurring back spasms in my mid-back, in the rib area.  These spasms have moved from left to right but are always in the middle of my back.  I’ve always assumed they are spasms but I read that muscle spasms usually last a few minutes.  Well mine last for days.  If I take something to help me to sleep, they calm down at night, but when I get up to start my day, they return.

I would describe this pain as sharp and almost like a strong contraction.  If I sit perfectly still and breathe very shallow, it will slow down some but then all of a sudden it will kick in again for no reason.  The hottest heat I can tolerate with a heating pad helps. Ice does nothing and makes me feel worse.  NSAIDs, like Advil, do nothing in high doses.  Muscle relaxants just make me sleepy.  I’ve tolerated valium well. Flexeril and Skelaxin made me nauseated.

The longer time passes, the more sore the area gets.  Typically if I push on it I feel it slows down a bit.  There have been times when you can feel a hard bulge in the area and other times nothing can be felt but if pushed very deeply in the area, it is very painful. Sometimes I wonder if this is a true muscle spasm, rather something nerve related, since it goes on for days and days.

My first episode was in 2004 after getting into a cold pool.  There was an immediate sensation, like someone putting and ice cube on a tooth.  It was very sensitive.  “Spasm” like contractions began and continued for 2-3 days.  Similar episodes followed once a year, usually when entering a cold pool in the summer.  

Episodes would prompt me to visit my former chiropractor.  I’d see her for general, as well.  I don’t think the adjustments made the spasms stop.  They seemed to subside on their own, but her massage and heating pads were soothing and comforting.

As the years have gone by the episodes have increased from once a year to twice a year.  I had an episode in June of 2013 after getting into cold pool that lasted several days.  Another in early October of 2013, which was the first time I had 2 in one year.

In January 2014, I saw my first orthopedist.  He took one x-ray and said he saw nothing except a minor curve in my spine. He prescribed a muscle relaxant, I believe it was Flexeril.  I wanted to be prepared should my back act up when I was at a work-related meeting at a remote location.

I can’t recall if I had another episode up until November of 2014.   I had lost my job in September and my Dad was terminally ill, so I was under a lot of stress.   I had been taking a very gentle beginner yoga class once a week that started in September and ended at the end of October.   I took a “gentle yoga” class on November 3 and then had a chiropractic appointment later that day.  I experienced a back spasm episode on November 8 for about 3-4 days and this began a 3-month cycle.  Spasms would slow down and go away after a few days only to return about 10 days later.  Flexeril did nothing to relieve the spasm.  I continued to see my former chiropractor.

I returned to the orthopedist in early December 2014.  He gave me an injection which did nothing.  He prescribed a pain killer called hydromorphone and a very strong anti-inflammatory.  He ordered physical therapy, which I began.  The spasms continued.  I never took the morphine.  My Dad passed away several days later and somehow I managed to stay spasm-free during the week of his funeral services.

December 17, I had another spasm episode that lasted days.   On December 20, my boyfriend took me to the emergency room for the spasms.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.  I was given valium and Percocet via IV.  Percocet relieves the pain, but the spasm continued on December 21.  On December 22, I went back to the orthopedist who ordered an MRI.  On January 5, I returned back to the orthopedist to read the MRI.   He said I was not a candidate for surgery and the MRI wasn’t that bad.  That there was nothing more he can do.  He told me to continue with PT and drugs for pain.

The MRI report says there is no evidence of disc bulge or herniation, but then it says:

T6-T7 and T8-T9:  mild disc bulging
T7-T8, T9-10, T10-T11:  some right side posterior element hypertrophy 
T11-T12:  small right paracentral disc herniation indenting the thecal sac


Small right paracentral disc herniation T11-T12
Mild disc bulging, T6-T7 and T8-T9
There is posterior element hypertrophy on the right exerting pressure on the thecal sac, T7-T8, T9-T10, T10-T11.

The orthopedist’s prescription for PT included the following diagnosis:

Thoracic disc degeneration
Herniated thoracic disc
Facet syndrome

Lumbar Spine:  Facet dysfunction
Lumbar Spine: DDD/Spondylosis
Lumbar Spine:  Myofascial dysfunction
Lumbar Spine:  Segmental dysfunction

Thoracic Spine:  Myofascial dysfunction
Thoracic Spine:  Segmental dysfunction
Thoracic Spine:  Facet dysfunction
Thoracic Spine:  DDD/Spondylosis

I started PT on January 8 and also went on January 13 and 15. On January 17, I began to suffer spasms for a few days.  On January 20 and 22, I had PT again.  Then on January 24, I had a spasm for a longer period of time that lasted days.  On February 3 and 5, I continued with PT.

On February 4, I decided to try a new chiropractor.  She said that I should stop my PT for the time being and ran a complete blood profile.  All the results came back normal.  She then said I could return to PT and should visit her 2x a week for a period of time. Well I could not afford to do both, so I just stuck to the chiropractor.  

I saw the chiropractor February 9, 11, 16, 18, 25, March 2 and March 9, for about 6 weeks.   She would start out by applying intense pressure to areas in my back that caused a lot of pain.  She called these trigger points.  I mean I’d break out in a sweat as she palpated the areas and she’d say she was barely touching them.  The pain stopped when she released pressure. She also would have me lie on my stomach and strap my legs into a device and she’d push the device and it would stretch my spine.  Then she would adjust me.  I had no spasms during the entire time I visited her. She also wanted me on a totally gluten-free diet and to work on making my body less acidic.  She said that the acidity was also a cause of my inflammation. She said I had to work on my posture and constantly keep my core tight.  After my sessions, I had to stop due to the high cost. I was feeling better!

I was spasm-free until May 23.  This episode lasted a few days. I don’t know what prompted it.  Again the spasms occurred on June 7 after sitting in meditation for a few 25-minute sessions.  I could feel my back begin to ache during the breaks and I’d massage it and stretch.  Within a few hours, I was in full blown spasm.  I took drugs that night, including Valium and Percocet.

I opted to try a new chiropractor again on June 9, 12 and 15.  I began to spasm on June 15, after visiting the chiropractor.  It continued all week long.  I returned to him on June 19 for a full adjustment and was in pain all weekend with spasm.

I find that if I take pain killers at night, I wake up in morning without pain but then as day progresses the pain returns after I’ve walked around.

The new chiropractor felt this was all due to improper posture; that my spine and neck are stiff and unable to get in proper position.  He wanted me to give him 12 visits, 2x a week, to get my body in proper alignment and once done, I will be about 60% there.  He said the spasms are normal and will continue during this time.  After 4 visits, I called and said that I needed a break.  The pain is just too much day in and day out.  It’s very hard to shell out money to someone and then deal with pain for days after.  I’m still unemployed, but thankfully have medical benefits that cost me a bundle each month through my former employer.

I am consulting with another facility that treats back pain from a variety of approaches, including acupressure, chiropractic, therapeutic massage, PT, and a spinal decompression machine called DRX 9000.  I am not sure I’d go for that and it’s very pricey.  I don’t even know if I’m a candidate. They have an orthopedist on site for consultation too.

To be continued. Best wishes to all in finding relief. - Clare

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