If you are considering surgery for sciatica, I hope you read my story:
About 15 years ago, I injured my back weight lifting with a trainer who was not as concerned with proper form as probably as much as he should have been. When the lower back pain didn't recede, a subsequent MRI revealed a herniated L5/S1 disc. Over the years, I lived with the pain, continuing to work out heavy and backing off when I over did it. After a few years the pain went away although every once in a while I would aggravate one way or another.
About two years ago, I began to shift from just weight training to mixing in more cardio, adding about 2-3 miles of running every few days. I don't know if that was the trigger but I began to develop sciatic pain in my right buttock, down my right thigh and into my calf. Although painful, it disappeared in a few weeks. It was right after my wife had our baby so I didn't get to lift or run as much as I would normally have. Perhaps just giving my body some time to heal was all I needed.
However, last summer, the pain came back... with a vengeance! I am not sure what brought it on exactly. The running seemed to make it worse the next day but who knows if that was the cause of the pain. Anyway, it got so bad I couldn't even begin to describe the agony, although I'm sure many of you know all too well! Sitting was impossible and sitting in the car was unbearable which made driving more than a few minutes impossible. I would have to lay down in the back seat while my father drove me around! Sleeping was impossible as lying down hurt too. Pacing back and forth for hours at night became the norm as standing gave me the only relief.
The pain radiated down to my foot and and times spasmed so much I was screaming at the top of my lungs. Unable to go to work I was bedridden for weeks at a time. It was devasting to see my wife struggle to go to work, take care of the baby, and take care of me even as I kept her up all night with my writhing and moaning.
I tried every stretching program I could find off the internet. I spent weeks doing all the Mackenzie exercises. Nothing worked. Some made the pain worse the next day. I saw a pain managemenet doctor. One hour for the pill to kick in. Two hours of relief. Then wait one more hour until I could take the next pill. Then one more hour for the pill to kick in... Meanwhile three epidurals later, I was still in pain.
My chiropractor and friend treated me a few times with that electro stimulus machine and some manipulation, but after a few visits and a new MRI and x-rays, he advised me to see an orthopedic surgeon. After reviewing my films, the surgeon told me what I figured he would: a microdiscectomy procedure on my L5/S1 would be the way to go. Unfortunately, he also assured me I would not have an active lifestyle anymore. No more weight lifting, skiing, running etc. He did, however, stress that I should opt for the surgery only if I felt that the pain made my life unbearable. He almost sounded as if he was trying to NOT sell me on it! I told him I would give it a few more days before I made up my mind.
The next few weeks were up and down. One day I was feeling better, the next was worse. In the mean time, I saw a neurolgist who confirmed with electric tests that my sciatic nerve was being damaged and would continue to worsen. I even saw a doctor who claimed to be able to relieve the pain by using lasers to zap the inner disc material to reduce the pressure within the disc. He also said I should never lift my infant daughter ever again or wear shoes that required me to tie laces! I passed.
Around the New Year holiday, I made the decision to have the surgery and made the appointment. In the mean time, a friend of my father's who also happened to be a chiropractor recommended another chiropractor who used the DRX9000 machine to treat sciatic pain. My father convinced me I really had nothing to lose by a free consultation and free trial on the machine and since I was scheduled for the surgery anyway, I figured I might as well hear him out.
This doctor seemed really down to earth. Contrary to the orthopedic surgeon who looked like he never played a sport in his life, this chiropractor was an avid weekend warrior and baseball player was convinced I wouldn't have to give up living life. He said he helped many people like me that he knew I would improve on the machine and that surgery was not the answer. There are some people you just know are honest and talk from their heart. This doc was one them. So I signed on for the whole course of treatment and put the surgery on hold
Three times a week for six weeks I drove forty minutes, often in agony, to his office. After each session on the machine the doctor would have me lay on stomach on a table, ice down my lower back, and then gently lower my legs using the movable table end to decompress the disks some more. Over four weeks I was getting steadily better, although it was so incrementally slow, it was hard to notice. It was about that time that I had a major set back and was in agony again. The doc assured me if I needed a few extra sessions, he would give them to me free of charge and was still convinced I would improve.
By about the seventh week I was over 90% better. The DRX treatment was stopped and the doc passed me off to the physical therapist who shared his office. I went for a couple of appointments but I was actually fearful that driving all that way (while sitting of course) would probably to more harm than good. I also felt that all that strectching was aggravating, not helping my back. I also knew I could do many of those exercises on my own at home.
The next few months I continued to take it easy. Gradually, I improved. Kind of like watching a pot boil. Its only after a few weeks you notice you are doing things you weren't doing before. I started going to the gym again; just taking it slow with light weights. Wanting to try a little cardio, I did the elliptical and stepper machines but avoided the treadmill as I thought the stress of running may have been the cause of my sciatica in the first place. When I increased my cardio workouts, my pain sometimes re-emerged the next day. So I stopped it.
Its now August. One year since my pain began and eight months since I considered surgery. My pain is gone. I mean all gone. No scaitic pain, no back pain. Once in a while, I get a twinge in my calf or thigh which I hope is just some of the damaged nerve regenerating, but other than that nothing. Although I am still afraid to do more cardio, I am training on the medium to heavy side with weights. I do leg curls, leg extensions, calf raises, as well as moderately heavy leg presses. I would say I am lifting about seventy-five percent of what I was when when I was training all-out. Of course,I did give up squatting and dead lifts and don't try to "max out" any more. Frankly, even though I feel great, the fear of ending up back where I was determines my limits. That and I am getting older too.
I don't know if my pain will come back. It might. It might not. What I do believe is that if I had the surgery I feel I would never be completely pain free. Who knows what complications I might have suffered. Right now I feel great and I have been putting off writing this for weeks now just so I don't jinx myself! But if you are considering surgery, please give it more time.
There is no way to know for sure whether the DRX9000 machine was what began my healing process or if it was just time that allowed my body to heal. Part of me thought the pain was caused by the Lipitor (choloesterol medication) that I started taking a few months before the pain started and quit taking about the time I started the DRX out of fear that it was the cause of the my sciatica. But I am writing this today pain free and every time I lift my child in my arms reminds me of where I am and where I could have been.
That's my story. I hope and pray it ends here.