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Stressed out- severe sciatic pain for 12 weeks and pretty scared

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,671
Hi everyone,
I am new to this board, glad I found it, its a great resource for all of us suffering from back pain.

My story: I am a 41 yo college professor (no health insurance, of course)
I have been suffering from sciatic pain for about 12 weeks now and am very disheartened and stressed out - I was gradually improving, then last night had a relapse (now worse than it was in the beginning) and I cant help but feel my livelyhood (job, finances, health) are all in serious jeopardy now.

My story- history of lower back pain since my youth (started when I worked in a warehouse), several episodes of back "going out" over the years. But always recovered within a week or so, and I was able to resume normal activities. I only saw a doctor for it once when i was in my 20s and he sent for a couple of weeks of PT.

Recently, (April) I was having mild but irritating back pain for about 3 weeks then fell asleep on the couch one night- moved abruptly and BAM! Felt a rod of pain go down my right leg all the way to my ankle. Next day I could barely walk more than a few feet without intense pain (8-9) down back of leg, heel/ankle, my calf felt like it was clenching/burning. Sitting was even worse.
Got relief only when lying on my side so I could still sleep (something to be grateful for after reading all your posts!)

Week 1-3: after a lot of web research, started cobra exercizes but they seemed to make the leg/ankle pain stronger so as directed, I stopped them after week 2. I still managed to work/teach classes even though the pain made it hell. Started using a lumbar pillow whenever sitting (still the hardest) and working on posture.

Weeks 2-10:
Since I didn't have insurance, I chose to try Chiro- tried one for about 4 weeks (used activator), then swiched to another Chiro (manual adjust) for another 4 weeks. It may have helped a bit (or maybe I was just healing anyway) but wipe me out at times and I felt I would need 1-2 days to recover after each visit. X rays showed some scloliosis, disc narrowing at S1/L1, some structural problems (short leg, very straight lower back) but overall the xrays were not that bad, as one chiro put it- not consistent with pain level.

By week 10,
the pain was down to a 4-5 but stronger by the end of the week after teaching/activity.
I was still impatient but happy to have some life back. I opted to stop chiro.

Weeks 11-12
2 weeks ago and was still making progress walking 2 times a day for 30 minutes and mild stretching (sciatic stretches mostly). still worried about overdoing it. Then BAM- last night I coughed and back to square one, even worse than before. walking more than a few minutes is excrutiating. Whats more, now I cannot work and am afraid I will loose my job.

I have to start this whole hellish thing over again. What to do next?
More Chiro? See a Neurologist? An orthopedic doc? Should I be thinking surgery at this point? Surgery I can’t afford? I know I need an MRI asap but am afraid using my newly aquired, crappy insurance will set off red flags. Sorry for the long rant, but I don’t know what to do/try next. Any suggestions would be appreciated.



  • Sorry for the reason you found us.

    As you probably know, an X-ray will only give you part of the story. In order to see the soft tissue, you need to have an MRI. From what you are describing, it sounds like you are having a problem with a "bad" disk, either herniated or ruptured. It is somehow compressing the nerve which is causing all the "sciatic" pain your are experiencing. It sounds like it starts to heal and the nerve irritation lessens, and then something causes an additional problem with the disk, which leads to more nerve symptoms. You somehow have to break the cycle so that the disk has a chance to heal completely, if indeed the problem is with the disk and not something else. I am obviously just speculating....Of course, stress can really make a back problem worse.

    Almost all specialists will try conservative treatments prior to even thinking about surgery. But after six weeks or so, if they are not helping, then it might be time to think about the next step.

    It would seem that the next step would be to get a MRI so you are able to get a reliable diagnosis. This will lead to a treatment plan. Depending on what the MRI shows, it would suggest different types of treatment.

    I don't really know what to suggest regarding your insurance problems. Personally I wouldn't spent any more time or money on chiropractic care until you have a MRI and a diagnosis. The problem is that it will probably take six weeks to get in to see a fellowship-trained spinal surgeon (either an orthopedic spinal surgeon or a neurosurgeon). (At this point it is usually not necessary to see a neurologist.) If you really baby yourself, perhaps you can get the disk to begin to heal during that time that you are waiting.

    Hopefully others will have some suggestions for you.

    Good luck.

    xx Gwennie
  • Profess,
    We all feel for you here. Most of us have been in your shoes or something similar. You MUST get an MRI. If you are scared of your insurance, you could try to foot the bill yourself. Should be about 1k in cost.
    There is no fast recovery. ICE is your best friend. You MUST get an MRI to understand what you have going on.
  • Thanks Gwennie and Cre for your support,

    I was starting to get really down. But I took your advice. saw a doctor, begged for an MRI referral right away. I will set that up for next week, then get to a neuro to be evaluated- hopefully it won't take that long Gwennie.
    Will keep you posted. Hope the news isn't bad, but I am expecting too hear the word surgery at this point. I am not as horrified of the idea after the utter hell of this last week!

    Cre-I read your story and did some research. It sounds a bit less daunting, would be hard for me to get there in my condition from the East coast- you are brave!

    wondering how your post-surgery recovery is going?

  • My girlfriend is also suffering from sciatic pain. She just graduated and is actively trying to pursue her future, but the back injury keeps getting in the way. From the first incident she started getting better after about 10 days.

    She was moving well and able to walk mostly. She did something to re injure herself and she was down again for another week. It took her another 10 days to get to the point where she was able to walk some, but then she injured herself again.

    She's out on the ground again. Each time she re injures herself, the injury was worse. She is afraid of muscle weakness affecting her so she tries to get up and move as much as she can.

    She has some pain meds but doesn't use them unless its really serious.

    Is the back so fragile in this state that anything (even a cough) will cause a relapse?
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