Have you ever had back pain? A majority of people will experience some sort of back pain at some point in their life. But, what if the cause of your back pain wasn’t diagnosed or even worse…incorrectly diagnosed?

This happened to me…

During my graduate work in 2010 I began having intermittent back pain that was occasionally sharp. The pain began in my mid/low back and wrapped around my side between my ribs and hip bone.

I assumed the cause of my back pain was just muscular…

Now, something you should know. I’ve had back pain off and on for years mostly due to poor posture and sitting in classes all day. And like many healthcare professionals I’m a terrible patient, I will admit…bad about doing my exercises and worse about overdoing it. Taking this all into consideration I assumed the cause of my back pain was just muscular and I went to the University clinic where I was evaluated and treated by a student in his last semester.

The treatment did help with my daily pain, but that intermittent more severe pain kept returning. The current fellow (a Doctor of Physical Therapy pursuing further training) at our University was able to evaluate my pain and after several treatments recommended that I see my primary care physician to rule anything else out as the cause of my back pain.

Taking my pain, family & personal history into account…

Taking my pain, family history, and personal history into account my physician determined the pain could possibly be caused by a kidney issue, endometriosis, or ovarian cysts. I was scheduled for a CT with contrast and ultrasound…all of which came back negative. The bad thing was I wasn’t having any pain when these tests were performed.

With negative test results and normal blood work my physician ruled that my side and back pain was in fact musculoskeletal and prescribed me to return to physical therapy. I was also given a prescription for an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory) to help with the pain when needed. I totally agreed with this diagnosis.

I would have random stabbing side and back pain…

This very annoying pain that caused me to walk around holding my side progressed for 2+ years. It would come and go randomly usually lasting for at least 1 week during which I would have random stabbing side and back pain. I had no energy and just all around felt horrible when this happened. It also drove me mentally nuts knowing that I had negative test results, but maybe we hadn’t looked for everything…or maybe something was missed?? But, I knew that I was a terribly non-compliant patient and that maybe if I did my exercises like I was supposed to the pain would get better.

Then on Halloween 2012 I inadvertently detoxed my gallbladder. You know those olive oil cleanses? Well…I accidentally did that by going to an olive oil store and sampling lord knows how many flavors then eating pasta in oil and bread with more oil that night! The pain was terrible and this time I was physically ill as well. The ER doctor ran an ultrasound and determined that I most likely had a gallbladder attack, but everything looked ok.

Thanksgiving came and my pain had not returned…Christmas…New Years…no side or back pain. I felt like I was always anticipating it, but it never came. Then sometime in late January it reared its ugly head again. This time lasting for over 1 month.

Pain would get better after a treatment, but always returned…

I began having issues treating patients due to the pain and I was taking way too much ibuprofen and aleve. I decided to have one more physical therapist take a look before returning to my doctor. I was able to have an amazing colleague evaluate and treat me for 3 months. The pain would get better right after a treatment, but would always return. I knew that I needed to see my Doctor again, but honestly I was scared… Was it something we missed before, something worse? I could think of dozens of things it could be, some completely plausible and some totally off the wall.

Then in July the pain became increasingly severe and I noticed I was running a low grade fever and felt much worse than I had before. I knew it was time to call my Dr. Unfortunately, she was on vacation and I didn’t even think to ask to see her colleague. So, I waited another week.

When I got to the Dr’s office I was immediately scolded by the nurse and my Dr for not coming in sooner (they are really great and know me well!). I did look quite pitiful and could hardly sit up straight. That day just happened to be the worst pain I had experienced yet. She gave me a shot of Toradol and sent me for an immediate CT scan.

Kidney Stones…?

On my way to the hospital I was in tears for the first time. I felt like someone was actually cutting me in half. Once I arrived at the hospital the pain began to ease as the medication kicked in. At 10pm that night my Dr called…”Kidney stones”…? This whole time I had thought for sure it was my gallbladder since the previous accidental detox gallbladder attack.

So, I stayed home a few days taking my pain killers and drinking 2+ Liters of water per day. I had a few more instances of the shooting pain though nothing even close to before. Almost 2 weeks later I was not having the significant pain, but I still was very nauseous and had a nagging discomfort in my right side. I was down to drinking ensure and eating cheerios because everything made me feel sick. I also noticed that all my symptoms matched my mothers before her gallbladder was removed.

Gallbladder…?

Once again, I returned to my Dr and she sent me for a HIDA (radioactive scan specific to the gallbladder). My gallbladder function was normal however since I had pain during the test my doctor ruled it a positive test and referred me to a general surgeon. I saw him the next week and my gallbladder was removed 4 days later.

Within 24 hours of having the surgery, even though I felt horrible, I could still tell a difference. That nagging pain, the nausea, all of it was gone.

After several weeks of recovery I felt great. I still anticipated the pain for quite a while, out of habit I guess. And about 3 or 4 months after surgery the stabbing pain came back.

Kidney Stones!

This pain felt exactly like the kidney stones, but was missing that dull ache / nauseous gallbladder pain. These stones passed easier than the last and I made myself a promise to drink more water, take my vitamins/supplements, and eat better.

I had great luck with changes I made until this March. I was feeling absolutely great and increasingly busy with taxes,etc. Needless to say I was not paying attention to my fluid intake or diet. And again they came back…..

I made a promise that before my 30th birthday I would change my diet, drink more water, and concentrate on my own health a little more… My birthday was over 3 months ago and so far so good. I can tell when I’m not eating right or drinking enough and immediately get back on track.

Narrow down the causes of pain & make necessary changes…

Although my gallbladder issues and kidney stones weren’t picked up on immediately, the diagnosis of back pain wasn’t wrong either. Sometimes there are several things going on inside your body and by treating one at a time you can begin to narrow down all the causes and tell the difference in each. I can definitely tell the difference in back pain and kidney stones now. I’m lucky to have an amazing physician that really listens to what I’m saying and a great physical therapist that has helped my back.It is also very important that you trust your own gut! Your body knows whats going on and will give you signals that a physician may not be able to read. If you truly feel like something is being missed don’t be afraid to speak up- Your body will thank you! Now, to keep better track of my water intake I use a Hydro Flask everyday. I have one of the giant 40 oz and try to drink 2 of them daily. Check them out;¬†they keep your drink cold (or hot) for 12+ hours- even at the hot beach!
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