Walk this Way: Asthma and Back Pain

by Sloane Miller Patient Advocate

Walk this Way

As someone with lifelong asthma, my upper and lower back are places that hold an extreme amount of tension. This is not uncommon for asthma sufferers. After a bad bout of bronchitis, my back and chest can hurt for weeks. Even during daily activities, I may notice chest heaviness on an allergic day. Back tightness is ever present. So, keeping my back, spine, chest and lungs healthy is a top priority.

Sometimes the back has its own way of telling you what to do however, and major discomfort or spasm forces the body to stop, rest and regroup.

Within the last ten years I've only had two lower back "incidents," by that I mean back-spasms. One was before my first alumni reunion weekend in Vermont. I woke up and I couldn't stand up straight. I went to my family chiropractor who gave me an adjustment and I was able to attend the weekend. The second incident occurred after I was lifting a television set (I know, I know). I felt my back "zing" and I was on bed rest for three days. My family doctor prescribed three different medications: a major analgesic and two opioids. I took a modest amount of Advil, best rest and hot baths and my back recovered.

In the past few weeks, I've had a third incident. Upon rising, my lower back felt stiff. By the end of an 8 a.m. meeting, I couldn't stand up straight; my lower back was in complete spasm. Back pain is one of the most common medical complaints. I think for asthmatics, general back tightness might make us predisposed to back trouble.

What to do about it once it happens? This is what I do to relieve back tension and pain:

1. Lie on the floor. I spent more than three days on the floor with my legs elevated because of this latest back incident. With my legs elevated, the back is not only supported, but is able to release more thoroughly .I concentrated on using the Alexander technique to actively release and relax my lower back, my upper back, my neck and my spine.

2. Take therapeutic doses of anti-inflammatory medication. According to this study, Advil is no better at helping your back pain versus Tylenol.

"The researchers said the review data 'support guidelines for the management of low back pain in primary care that recommend NSAIDs as a treatment option after (acetaminophen) has been tried, since there are fewer side effects with (acetaminophen),' said lead reviewer Pepijn Roelofs, a doctoral student at Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Roelofs and colleagues noted there's 'conflicting evidence that NSAIDs are more effective than simple analgesics and bed rest, and moderate evidence that NSAIDs are not more effective than other drugs, physiotherapy or spinal manipulation for low back pain.'"

I believe whatever you will be most med-compliant with -- meaning you will take the whole course of medication and not stop when you begin to feel a little better -- is probably the best course of action. As I'm loathe taking opioids unless absolutely necessary, a therapeutic course of Tylenol and or Advil is my first defense.

3. Apply wet heat. Hot baths, hot showers, and my hot water bottle were my heat regimen. My chiropractor said in the case of a back strain to treat it as any sprain: ice packs in the first 48 hours then heat. In this case, I went right to heat and it has helped immensely.

4. Rest. Back pain is commonly associated with stress. Using simple meditation techniques, breathing deeply, guided visualization, I was able to reduce my stress level and allow my body to release.

So how am I going to keep my back safe in the future?:

  • See my chiropractor. He's on my insurance plan and a few adjustments should help me get back on track alignment-wise.

  • "Strengthen the core": i.e. working my abs to protect my back muscles.

  • Thirty minutes of exercise daily. For me that will be continuing my regimen of walking daily, doing the recumbent bike at the gym, taking gentle yoga classes all the while making sure to protect my back, relax my gluts and focus on the core.

  • Stretching. Daily stretching is important as well as before and after any exercise. Very often my day is so hectic I forget to stretch or even breathe deeply for a few minutes.

  • Doing Alexander, that is, mindfully releasing tension held in the body.

Sloane Miller
Meet Our Writer
Sloane Miller

Sloane Miller, MFA, MSW, LMSW, specialist in food allergy management and author, is founder and President of Allergic Girl Resources, Inc., a consultancy devoted to food allergy awareness. She consults with private clients, the healthcare, food, and hospitality industries, government and not-for-profit advocacy organizations. In 2006, Ms. Miller started Please Don't Pass the Nuts, an award-winning blog for and about people affected by food allergies. In 2011, John Wiley & Sons published Ms. Miller's book, Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well With Food Allergies, the definitive how-to guide. Ms. Miller combines a lifetime of personal experience and passion with professional expertise to connect with people about how to live safely, effectively, and joyously with food allergies.