The Cold-The Back Pain-The Cold Sore
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Can't remember the last time I had a cold.
What people describe as: "My back went-out" or "Disabling Back Pain". It's never happened to me.
Can't remember the last time I missed work because of illness.
And I've never had a cold sore or fever blister in my life.
That is until the week of December 7-14!
Here's what happened to me--the week I turned into the Very Unhealthy Librarian
1. First I got a cold, because I ignored the early signs and was too busy to do anything about it.
Don't do what I did. Read and pay attention to my mostly-no-fail-cold-prevention plan. My Research-Backed Advice on How to Prevent Colds - Knock Them Out Quickly - or Shorten Their Duration.
At the first sign of a cold--don't be lazy like I was. Make the time to use a neti pot (I use Sinucleanse), take Zicam Cold Remedy RapidMelts or Cold-Eeze (my fave Zicam nasal gel is now off the market), and get plenty of sleep! Even though I waited for my cold to surface before I did anything about it, luckily, I still managed to knock it out quickly with this method.
Or avoid the cold in the first place by paying attention to: Advice From the Experts on How to Protect
Yourself From Colds and Flu. How to Boost Your Immune System and Avoid
Germs. What Foods and Supplements Will Help the Most?
2. Then my back "went out" and I quickly learned what it feels like to be disabled. Thankfully, I only missed a day of work, but I soon realized that you can't do anything when you can't move your body. What good is a day off of work when there's nothing you can do?
Don't do what I did. Read and pay attention to my post: Why Sitting In A Chair Hurts Your Back - What You Can Do To Prevent Back Pain.
I made the big mistake of sitting in a chair for over 5 hours straight without getting up, tightening up my hip flexors and twisting my torso to the left for way too long while I worked on my computer.
"Sitting all day is the worst thing in the world you can do for your back, " said Dr. Joel Press, the medical director of the Spine & Sports Institute at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Then I went off to a spinning class where I continued to tighten up my hip flexors as I rode for a hour in a crouched-over-the-handle bars position. Later that evening, when I bent down to unload the washing machine--bingo--"my back went out". Seriously, "out". I could barely walk up the stairs, get up from the toilet, get in and out of bed, get dressed, sit in a chair, or do anything that involved moving my body. I had instant empathy for anyone with an incapacitating injury or disability.
3. Then I got a cold sore/fever blister for the first time in my life. Not such a big deal, but it's ugly, embarrassing, uncomfortable, and to make matters worse, I couldn't wear any lipstick--and I always wear lipstick. I didn't want to contaminate it.
Don't do what I did--I ignored the tingly, prickly feeling in the corner of my mouth. The first sign of a cold sore. That's how it starts. I never paid any attention to it until it was a full blown rapidly growing yellowish pus pocket in the corner of my mouth. My husband suggested I just pop it--like a pimple. Big mistake. Do not do that!
The whole embarrassing ugly mess could have been avoided all together if only I had known the symptoms, paid attention, and dabbed the corner of my mouth with Abreva--the miracle ointment that will nip a cold sore in the bud. At least that's what everyone tells me--friends & relatives who were once plagued with unsightly painful cold sores--before Abreva came on the market. To read more about the causes, the symptoms, and preventive steps for cold sores, check out what the Mayo Clinic and WebMD have to say. Click here for Mayo. Click here for WebMD.
Besides using Abreva, I discovered a great lip balm at my hospital pharmacy, called Carmex. Click here to read more. It kept my lips comfortable & moist, and I could squeeze it out of a tube--and apply with my finger--rather than contaminate a lipstick-type balm.
So how did I get a cold sore?
Impossible to know. Initially, you catch it from someone else--and it's highly contagious. Afterward, an outbreak is often triggered by lack of sleep, stress, a cold, the flu, the sun, or any of the usual suspects that lower our immunity. Some of which happened during the days before my cold sore surfaced. Who knows, maybe the virus had been lying dormant for years--or maybe I just caught it.
1. I acted quickly.
2. I immediately took an anti-inflammatory. In my case I took a Celebrex (a prescription anti-inflammatory that doesn't irritate the stomach). Ibuprofen is irritating to me, and thanks to my husband we had some Celebrex at home.
3. As uncomfortable as I was, I managed to get on the floor and do some very gentle hip flexor stretches. This helped to stretch out my super-tight hip flexors that apparently had irritated my piriformis muscle. Fortunately, my niece Jamie, a 3rd year physical therapy PhD student, had previously shown me some good stretches to do--so I was prepared!
"One muscle which is often thought to be the cause of pain when sitting is the piriformis. You have two piriformis muscles, running horizontally from the lower spine to the top of each thighbone (femur). The piriformis runs over the sciatic nerve, and when the muscle becomes tight or spasms and places pressure on the sciatic nerve. This can cause pain in the lower back and/or pain that radiates to the buttocks and down the leg. Pain is often made worse by sitting." Rakel. Integrative Medicine. 2nd ed. 2007
- Sit in a chair with both feet flat on the floor.
- Place the ankle of the affected leg above the knee of the opposite leg. Rotate the hip so that the knee faces outward.
- Keeping your back straight, lean forward until you feel a stretch.
- Lie on your back with your unaffected leg bent so that the foot is flat on the table/floor.
- Place the ankle of the affected leg above the knee of the opposite leg.
- Rotate the hip so that knee faces outward.
- Place your hands around the hamstring of the unaffected leg and gently pull back until you feel a stretch. *The foot will lift off the table/floor at this point.
4. What I didn't know to do was to immediately (recommended by Janet--my physical therapist friend) put an ice pack on my back for 10 minutes at a time, for the first 24-72 hours. I did it 12 hours after my back "went out" and it really felt good.
5. Other tips from Janet--the physical therapist:
- If you are in a lot of pain, just get on your back and get into a neutral position--the same as if you were standing.
- Hold each of the hip flexor/piriformis stretches for 30-60 seconds.
- She also recommends this stretch: lie on a bed or at table with your hips 8 to 10 inches from the edge. Pull one thigh into your chest just enough to press your your lower back down lightly. Slowly lower your other leg over the edge, easing it down. Hold for 30-60 seconds. You should feel a gentle stretch. Then switch positions. Here's what this stretch looks like:
- What ever you do--do not lie in bed all day. Move around. Get blood flowing into the muscle to help speed recovery.
- My back "went out" on Thursday evening. I stayed home from work on Friday--which Janet said was the best thing I could have done. Driving to work, sitting in a car, sitting at work all day would have extended the injury. By Friday evening I could move around comfortably. Bottom line: act quickly, don't push yourself to "carry on as usual".
- On Saturday morning I asked Janet when I could go back to spinning class. She said that as long as I felt fine, and I did, I could start exercising on Sunday, but she advised me to take it easy, pay attention, don't overdo, and stop if I had pain. I actually worked out very well for me.
My Advice--Watch this short video Strengthening the Core: The Science of Back Pain (only 3 minutes) & you'll finally understand why our backs can seemingly "go out" on us at the most random of times.
In the video Dr. Vijay Vad (the guru of back pain prevention) clearly explains how we unwittingly abuse our backs, and what we can do to prevent injury. I first heard of Dr. Vad from a co-worker who swears by the exercises in this book: Back Rx: a 15-minute-a-day yoga & pilates based program to end low back pain. Gotham, 2004.
Since my "back incident" I've made it a point not to skip yoga classes--they really help to improve flexibility and prevent injury.
As for the cold sore, it's still with me, but on it's way out. Since I was clueless and unsuspecting when the symptoms first appeared I didn't act immediately at the first tingle of pain, so now I'm stuck with going the full 1-2 week usual course. Next time, I'll be prepared.
Bottom Line When It Comes to Colds, Back Pain, and Cold Sores:
Prevention and attention rule. Get enough sleep. Wash your hands often. Eat well. Don't Overdo it. Don't sit at a desk too long. Do preventive hip flexor stretches if that's the cause of your back problems. At the first sign of a cold--get out that neti pot (Sinucleanse). At the first sign of a cold sore, zap it with Abreva.