My Apparently Successful Experience With Vicodin

I had my first pain free run in five months.  And I’m very happy right now.

In March, I hurt my back.  This was my first real running injury since I started running marathons in 2003.  I’ve had some ankle twists and some knee bruises from all the trail running I do, but nothing that kept me off my feet for more than a month.  This time I lost five months ; the last time I tried to run was two months ago.

I didn’t get serious about figuring out what was going on until half way through July in Alaska when I realized I just wasn’t getting better. My pain on a daily basis never got below a three (on a 0 to 10 scale) and I often was in the six to eight range.  If you saw we get up out of a seat in the last five months, you knew I had a lower back injury.  The pain gradually settled at the very base of my spin in the middle of back – it was localized, but sharp and chronic.

So I stopped running completely, increased the amount I was swimming up to a couple of times a week, and started the process of getting professional help.  My first big goal was to rule out something serious, so I decided to get an MRI.  That took a while (doctor visit, referral, scheduling).  I had two different doctors read the MRI – each told me that there was an issue, but there was no need for surgery and steroid injections would likely be useless.  So, I started the “sign up for physical therapy process.”

In the mean time, my general practitioner gave me a prescription for vicodin.  I’m very afraid of drugs and have always avoided them.  I don’t remember if it was a movie I saw about drugs in elementary school (I saw movies on sex but never was afraid of it), my parents, or something else but they’ve just never been my thing.  I am a Vitamin I users and I used it for a while to try to manage my chronic gout, but eventually gave up and went on Allopurinol.  I’ve had other prescription medicines over the year, but I’ve stayed away from anything illegal, even our friendly herb which is basically legal in Boulder.  So the idea of taking a narcotic sort of freaked me out.

I was in so much pain after the US Open (and sitting on the stadium seats for two days) that I went ahead and took one pill.  The bottle said I could take four a day, so I figured one a day would help without being dangerous.  Amy and I flew from New York to San Diego and I took a second one.  On Friday I flew to San Francisco for the day and took a third one.   When I woke up on Saturday morning I was pain free for the first time in five months.  So I decided not to take another one on Saturday.

On Sunday when I was sitting at my computer I started to stand up and had an extremely loud “pop” happen exactly in the region where the pain has been.  Amy heard it from across the room and immediately shouted out “are you ok.”  My back then went into a spasm – something that’s only happened a few times – and for about ten seconds I couldn’t talk or breath.  But, when it stopped, I still had no pain.

I flew back to Boulder Monday morning.  I decided not to take any more vicodin until I had at least a pain level of three again.  As the week passed, the pain didn’t reappear.  On Wednesday I saw a spine specialist who works with athletes as part of the PT referral process.  I spent 30 minutes telling him the story from beginning to end and then we went and looked at the MRI together.  He again confirmed that surgery was unnecessary and – more importantly – that the MRI showed a few clear signs of distress that would explain the chronic pain, but that steroid injections would be useless.  We did a few diagnostic things and then he gave me his hypothesis.

He suggested that it’s likely that the small amount of vicodin I took broke the pain cycle I had been stuck in.  Once the pain was gone, my body was able to move in certain ways that resulted in a natural adjustment (the big pop) of an area of my back that was stuck.  Having it adjust naturally was much more effective than if I’d gone to a chiropractor.  It had never occurred to me that this would happen, but when I think about the number of times my back adjusts in other spots when it gets out of whack this made perfect sense to me.

I’ve now had a week of no back pain.  I haven’t taken anything – not even Vitamin I – in a week.  I went for a few swims this week and a short run today.  I feel great.

For everyone out there that has been patient with me, offered suggestions, and provided help over the past five months, thank you.  Who knows whether this really solved the problem or not but this is the first time in a while that I’ve been optimistic about it.

  • John Minnihan

    Excellent news; very pleased to hear. You recall me warning you (in my very best stern voice, hey) the other night about the Vicodin. Glad to hear it [may have] got you over the hump.

    • Yup – I remember it. A number of people gave me similar stern warnings which just reinforced my freaked-out-ness about taking it.

  • PhilSugar

    Brad, you know where to reach me. My wife does this for a living….prescribing pain management medication.

    I thought it was total bullshit until she literally was a godsend for my mother.

    Seriously your experience is exactly what she talks about and she is super, super anti drug including your near as I can tell legal experience of cannabis in Boulder. As a favor (for the Governor) she took over the medical treatment for lifers (in prison) in our state for three years until I finally said no way.

    I'll be in your great state next week.

    Best regards.

    • Wow – cool! I'll definitely be calling if I have additional issues.

  • Brian Hart

    Do you know what happens physically when there's a "big pop"? Is it akin to cracking knuckles?

    Anyway, glad 0 is the new 3.

    • Not really – the spasm happened almost simultaneously (presumably my nervous system responding and going into "shut everything down" mode up and down my spine) so I couldn't really tell what it felt like since I was struggling to keep breathing.

  • Jared K.

    This *exact* same thing happened to me. Only replace "Vicodin" with "Flexeril" (a muscle relaxer, not a pain med).

    It was simply miraculous when it finally ended, so I imagine you're feeling the same way. 'Glad to hear everything is getting back to normal.

  • Eric Marcoullier

    Despite what everyone thinks about me (and which, honestly, I never bother to deny) I've never had anything stronger than alcohol. So when I had my wisdom teeth removed and was given Vicodin, I was similarly freaked out.

    I took one pill when I got home and it was probably the greatest four hours of my life. Felt like I had crawled back into the womb — just pure, unmitigated bliss. Threw away the rest of the package the next morning and haven't touched them since.

    Glad your experience was much (and much less) better 🙂

  • DaveJ

    Ditto on Jared K’s story with Flexaril. My pain was a spasm in a shoulder muscle.

    Very glad you’re feeling better – and welcome to the mid-40s!

  • Roy Kaller

    Bravo Brad! Pain zero is much more important for mental clarity and well being than in-box zero! Pain cycles and inflammation cycles are very real and breaking the cycle with a pulse of pain killers or steroids can, as you have experienced, have fantastic results.

    If I may, please allow me to offer my definition of irony: My thoughtful wife suggested that I order a better office chair due to my own lower back problems (root cause going back >30 years to high school). I ordered a Herman Miller Aeron which arrives in a 3' X 3' X 3' box weighing 60lbs. It crossed my mind that I should wait for my wife to assist in unloading the box from my truck, but testosterone overruled good sense and I yanked the box out and leaned backwards……..yep, I was on floor for much of the next week.

    Keep running and swimming, the increased blood perfusion from aerobic exercise helps repair and maintain back heath. The best advice I've ever received on the subject.

  • "Having it adjust naturally was much more effective than if I’d gone to a chiropractor". Really? Is that a fact? I wonder what would have happened if you had seen a chiropractor on day 1?

    • I have no idea if it's a fact or not – it's simply what the spine specialist said. I was paraphrasing him.

      I actually have gone to a chiropractor (I left it out of the story because I didn't think it was additive). In this particular case, it didn't help with the lower back issue. Of course, that could have been that particularly chiropractor – another one might have fixed it.

      Interestingly, the spine doctor I saw was very open to chiropractic. He was clear that he wasn't trained in it but has seen it work wonders in many situations. However, we was skeptical / concerned about it in this particular region of my back given the description of the situation and the reading of the MRI.

  • Steve Bergstein

    That's great! Mazel tov!

  • Paul Kedrosky

    That's great, Brad. I'm delighted for you.

  • Randy

    I hear you Brad as I had my first ever back problem about a year ago and we are about the same age too. I used Ben-Gay twice a day for a month as well as aspirin and that helped me in a similar way. Now I am pain free too.

  • Diane

    Your theory about the 'pop' in your back is consistent with my experiences. I have had back problems for a number of years and two herniated disc surgeries. I recently was doing some lifting and organizing of things around my house when I bent over, lost my breath, and wasn't sure I could get to a chair a few inches away. After stabilizing myself I relaxed for the rest of the evening and my back actually felt better than it had in a long time. The muscles get tight to protect the area and that causes new problems. Best thing for a bad back is to keep it flexible by using it every day – the thing is consistency.

  • Daniel Lucas

    This is great news Brad. You will never take your pain relief for granted. I suffered from chronic back pain for several years and I couldn't run or even sit still for more than a few minutes without trying to crack my back. After several years I had xrays and a few trips to the chiropractor and this helped a bit but was temporary. I got an inversion table at a yard sale and after a few weeks I noticed less 'pinching' pains. I started running a few weeks later after being pressured into a 5k and the rest is history. I never use the inversion table anymore and I run, swim and bike 3 times a week pain free.

    Being able to exercise pain free is a gift one should never take for granted.

  • karen

    I know a great chiropractor and yoga instructor if you need them! Best wishes.

  • Jann Scott

    Highly addictive. Watch it.

    • Yup – totally agree. I only took Vicodin for three days, and then only one a day.

  • Brad, i just caught this post and wanted to chime in here. I had a similar experience a few years back – had been having major lower-back issues and was visiting a chiropractor w/ no success. What finally tipped things and made it take hold was introducing therapeutic massage into the equation. I think for the same reason Vicodin worked in your case ("my body was able to move in certain ways that resulted in a natural adjustment") adding the massage in my case held the muscles that had pulling my bones out of alignment at bay long enough for the chiro Tx to work. Anyways this was a major lightbulb for me at the time and your story resonated. I documented the a-ha moment here:

  • Tess

    Yeah great news! Happy I found your story. For all of you afraid to take your pain meds please send to me before throwing them out-just kidding!!! Don’t know what I would do without Vicodin and the likes since Tylenol, etc. are like taking sugar pills. How the body gets stuck in these “pain cycles” is amazing yet scary and I’m very happy more and more Drs are becoming aware of this phenomenon. My first run in with this was 6 years ago which required surgery and nerve ablation to ‘end’ the 24 year pain cycle!!!! It was a miracle!!! Keep passing the word!