I have had sciatic nerve pain off and on for years. It has been bad enough for me to curtail my exercise but never enough to immobilize me for more than a day or so. That all changed this past Memorial Day. I have no idea what I did but I woke up one day with minor back-pain which I ignored. I went for a walk, came back and sat at my desk to work for a couple of hours. When I went to get up I found I could not move. I seriously had such severe pain that I could barely walk from my chair to the couch.
I am not one to sit still but this was something that made even me stop all activities. I could not sit at all, I could not stretch out my legs and therefore could not sleep. I could stand for only short periods of times. It started out bad and it got even worse over the next few days before finally stabilizing.
It is a Pain in the Butt
The back pain and pain in my butt was bad enough but it was the pain that went from my ankle to my lower leg that was so debilitating. It not only hurt but I felt like I had no stability and it got worse at night. I described the pain as being like a toothache, it was throbbing and always there.
I am no doctor so if you have severe pain check with your doctor before coming up with your own plan of action.
Here is what worked for me.
- Take some time off from all exercise. For me this meant no walking, no tennis, no yard work. I did not do anything at all for several days.
- After a few days I could not stand it anymore so I started trying to walk for 15 minutes every hour. I walked on the street in front of my house which is paved with asphalt and so is even and totally flat, no hills or inclines. I paid attention to my posture by keeping my shoulders back, my head up and making sure my butt did not stick out. Figuring that walking was essentially good for my back and laying on the couch all day was making me depressed I played around with my walking to find a posture that was comfortable. Most importantly I never strayed too far from home so that if my pain intensified I could get home quickly.
- Fortunately the neighborhood pool had just opened so I started a limited swimming routine. This helped both my back and my psyche. I was outside and I was moving, two things I love. It worked well enough that I will most likely join a club with an indoor pool so I can do water aerobics once the local pool closes.
- I looked online and found a variety of exercises to try. The one that helped most was to lie on my side and pull my knees to my chest. I would lay like this for 45 minutes, then get up and take my 15 minute walk then go back to laying on the couch again with my knees pulled to my chest. The other exercise that gave some relief was to lie on my back and pull the leg with the pain up in the air as straight as possible and gently oh so gently push it to make it more vertical but never to the point where it hurt.
- I tried massage and paid for two fairly expensive massages. The first one worked wonders on my lower back, in fact after the massage I had very little lower back pain. However, it did nothing for the pain in my butt or down my leg. Since I found some relief after the first massage I went back the following week and had another massage. Although it was nice and relaxing, it did nothing to further reduce my pain.
- The other thing I noticed through trial and error is that shoes are important. I had to throw fashion to the wind and wear my walking shoes everywhere. They are light weight and have a flexible sole and are the only shoes I wore for over a month. I wore them everywhere and with every outfit explaining to everyone why I was making such a Brutta Figura. Even now I find that the only shoes I can wear are my walking shoes and two pairs of not very attractive sandals. But I am willing to be a fashion don’t as long as I don’t have to go through that pain again.
- I went to the doctor which I always recommend. She told me that it would take time, that I should try to move but not to the point that my pain worsened and then loaded me up with muscle relaxers. I took one muscle relaxer and said never again. It knocked me out for over 12 hours. I did start taking Ibuprofen, especially before bed. The benefit of the muscle relaxer was that it allowed me to sleep and up to then I had only been able to sleep a few hours a night but I can’t stand the way they make me feel. I found the Ibuprofen helped though it was by no means was a miracle cure.
After about 3 weeks the pain started to go away and once it started to go away it went away pretty quickly. I still have to be careful about what I do. I am very wary about lifting anything heavy or even a little heavy. I don’t sit for long periods of time. I take more frequent but shorter walks. I am very aware when something makes my back hurt. I seem to be able to play tennis but not work in the yard for more than 15 minutes.
Don’t Be Shy, Talk it Out
I spoke to everyone about my pain, I am sure people were getting sick of me, but the advantage was I found that a lot of people have this problem and was able to get good advice. I was just getting ready to try acupuncture which several people swore by. An equal number of people had gone to a chiropractor where they found some relief.
I was lucky as I had just finished a project at work and had yet to start a new one so I was able to take the time to heal. I don’t know what I would have done if I had to go into work every day and sit at a desk or worse stand on my feet all day.
I am now constantly aware of things I never paid much attention to: do these shoes help or hurt my back, how long have I been sitting, does this exercise help or hurt, is it time to stretch, etc.
Try to stay positive and keep in mind that for most of us the pain eventually passes.