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L5/S1 - Sciatica - My Road Back to Recovery

beepsbbeeps Posts: 15
I’ve decided to start my own thread on this forum as journal depicting my experience in recovery from L5/S1 disk hernia. I am non-English speaker, so I apologize if my text is not clear. I am a 35 year old professional male. I started having my lower back pain about 5 years, when it would come and go, and would not require anything serious to fix it, pain would go away on its own. Over the years of work, travel and inappropriate physical activities I ended up with L5/S1 disk hernia that’s pushing on my left S1 nerve and giving me sciatica on both legs. I’ve done many chiropractor visits, who do his usual back fix, then give me ultra-sound and electrical stimulation. I also did 25 visits of de-compression therapy where a machine stretched my lower back for 15 mins with intervals. I did see some easing of muscle tension as result of electric stimulation, but did not see any benefit from decompression therapy. Past month has been really difficult, I had to spend 3 days in bed, not being able to stand straight. I went to my orthopedic surgeon who did another MRI, confirmed hernia and recommended a micro-diskectomy. I have read a lot about my case and have heard many good worthy opinions on this forum and others. I also went to 2 other doctors to get a “second” opinion. After all the research, I have decided to try to heal on my own, thru PT, exercise etc, and rejected the surgery. I hope I made the right decision. Time will show. I will certainly work hard to get my disk and my health back into its normal shape. I know this is going to be a long journey, but I am very much determined to get to the end of it on my own.

After much reading and reflecting on my past, I can clearly see why what brought me to my current shape. It was years of lower back “abuse”. I was an active man, played competitive volleyball twice a week and commuted on my road bike about 15 miles each day. I went to gym for weight lifting, and did the same types of routines that many other guys do – spending majority of my time on chest, arms, upper back and legs while doing almost nothing to strengthen my core and lower back muscles. I realize that many others still make this mistake – we guys go to the gym to bump up our chest/biceps/lats so that we can “showcase” to our girls, right!? I should have worked more on my core and developing that 6-pack instead. I commuted to work 5 days/week on my road bike, while carrying my backpack with laptop in it. I liked to throw my kids up in the air, and did many other unwise things that slowly, bit by bit, were putting pressure on my disk, while my muscles weren’t string enough to support the vertebra.

My chiropractor told me that most of lower back problems stem from muscle misbalance. Our core/back muscles don’t get enough of use considering that we spend 80% of our time sitting down – first at work sitting in front of the computer, then at home sitting in front of computer or TV. He noted something that was very interesting – we are probably the first generation of humans in our history who have to make a special effort to stay active. We have to wake up early to go run on a treadmill, or schedule weightlifting routine 3 times/week, etc… He also noted that according to medical statistics, back in 1950’s the average age of a person with lower back problems was 56 years old., while today it is 35 years old. With the sitting lifestyle we are living, the average age will probably be 20+.

My back feels worst in the morning. I’ve discovered that swimming helps me start my day. So, I have been swimming everyday about half mile. I swim slowly, no pressure on my arms or legs. I swim freestyle or back stroke. I don’t swim breaststroke as it hurts my back. I am swimming for two reasons – it helps me relieve my morning back pain and also it exercises by back and shoulder muscles. It feels really great to be in the pool, feels heavenly. After swimming, my day is easier, as there is less pain and I feel fresh.

I also hang upside down for 15 minutes each morning and evening. It hurts a bit but tolerable. I can sometimes hear gentle crack noises when I hang upside down. Not sure if hanging down helps at this point, but it definitely feels better after it. So hanging down has been working well for me so far.

I modified my work space. Since I can’t sit for more than 15 minutes, I now stand most of the day in front of my desk top. It will take time to get used to, but should relieve pressure on my disk. I have bought a little side table, which now sits on my desk and houses my laptop and screen. I also brought an exercise ball into my office and I do stretches during the day. I also stop my email work, and walk around, visit my colleagues for short talks. I enjoy it to get to know my office colleagues this way.

This week I am going to see my chiropractor and ask him about what type of physical therapy I should do for my condition. I am not yet fit/flexible enough for Yoga or Pilates, so I need a gentle start. I ‘ve heard of Mac Kenzie program, but need to check with specialist on what’s best for me.

I drink lots of water during the day. I read somewhere that water is essential for keeping our disks filled with fluids/oxygen. I hope its true. Seems that whatever I drink goes out very quickly, so my office workers noticed already that I go to bathroom very often now.

I try to get enough sleep. I sleep on my back, with my legs resting up. I got a “bean bag” filled with some soft pellets and it provides excellent support for my legs. It can change shape according to my needs. This bean bag works well for me to keep my legs in upright position.

Sorry for this long introduction.


  • Hi and great idea on the journal approach.
    I think you made a good decision on the surgery based on what I am hearing from you.

    I am not a fan of chiropractors with lower backs BUT I was successful with PT and proper body mechanics and modifying exercise for years.

    I only resorted to the Microdiscectomy b/c I tore the annulus and lost a BIG piece of the disk that sat on my nerve.

    Anyhow, I think it's great to share the conservative approach and success you are having b/c I am SO glad I was able to avoid surgery with similar techniques for 17+ years.

    Keep us posted.
  • DNice,

    Thank you for your advice. What type of body mechanics worked best for you? I am considering Yoga or Pilates once my lower back get into better shape. But before that I will have to ask my doctor what exercizes he recommends.

    My lower back is painful in the mornings, but after about 3 pm until end of day, it feels just fine. by evening, I almost feel no pain. Is it normal?

    Thank you
  • I would like to know about your sciatica problems. Do you still have them and if so, how bad are they?
  • Hang in there. I'm in much the same situation as you are, even the same age. I have inexplicably been getting better as of late. I rejected surgery also, and it appears that after a year, I am getting back to normal.
  • sadman, I have sciatica in both legs, but it is more intense in my left leg. It is sometimes a shooting pain from my left buttock down hamstring. Sometimes it is just numb/dull pain from buttock to hamstring. Sciatica in my right leg is same - sometimes shooting/sometimes dull pain. Probably 80% of sciatica pain in my left leg and 20% in my right leg. My right buttock muscle feels very tight/painful during the day.

    Back in Dec - Jan I had tingling/hot/cold feet sensation in both feet, but it went away in Feb.

    I am going to see PT specialist tomorrow. Also, I will visit another orthopedic doctor just to get a "third opinion" since they are in the same building. It has been two weeks since I have been on my mission to get my lower back in shape. My daily routine has been:
    - swimming 500 meters free style; 50 meters on my back. Swimming feels great to me
    - hang upside down for 15 minutes

    during day:
    - standing probably 75% of my work day
    - sitting 20%
    - stretching 5% (every 2 hours)

    - swimming 500 meters free style; 50 meters on my back. Swimming feels great to me
    - hang upside down for 15 minutes

    Once I learn from my PT doctor what exercises I should be doing for my condition I will substitute exercise training for swimming in the evening. I will update here once I get my exercise routine from my doctor.

    Vermithrax, thanks for encouraging post! it is great to know you are getting better.

  • Which pain is worse for you? Lower back pain or sciatica? It is not very hard to strengthen one's core, but by doing this sciatica problems perhaps won't go away and lower back problems can still remain the same in spite of strong core. Strong core isn't necessarily a way out of lower back pain. I am speaking from my personal experience, but of course I hope that you will reach your goal and keep us posted.
  • my lower back pain is worse than sciatica. Sciatica comes and goes during the day, not a persistent condition. Back pain is more persistent, especially if I bend/twist even slightly. I have no pain when I sleep/lay down. Lower back pain is bad in the morning, but after I swim/hang upside down, it softens. If I sit for more than 15 mins at work, pain intensifies, so I stand most of the time at work. In the afternoon and evenings, if I stand at work, lower back feels better.

    My main goal now is to get my bulging disk back into where it belongs. I hope that when it goes back inside, my sciatica will go away.
    I read on another forum that there are nerves in outer side of disks, and when the disk heals/returns back, these nerves may grow into inside of disk. I read this at ChyroGeek forum. So, I may still have some pain in the lower back sometimes, even if the disk heals. Not good news, but hoping for the best.Hope springs eternal!
  • I had a consultation with another doctor today to get a "third" look. here is the summary:

    - L5/S1 herniation is confirmed
    - Herniation is in the center, not left or right side of the disk. Doc said this explains why my sciatica is not constant, but "comes and goes".
    - He told me that our disks are constantly in repair mode by our body. But herniated disk will NOT "go back" to its normal shape. He compared outside of the disk material to a car tire material - it is strong, but once broken, it will not co back to its normal shape. Is it true???
    - He told me that with my case Endoscopic Microdisectomy wont help.

    He recommended:
    - Physical Therapy, especially McKenzie program
    - Reduce daily pressure on spine by standing during day, more movements
    - swimming and walking are best exercises for spine
    - if another attack happens, he recommended to try epidural shot

    He did not recommend surgery as the condition of my disk was "not that bad".

    SO, I am off to Amazon to buy that McKenzie program book. and also will read up on exercizes on this forum.

    PS. How can I post pictures here? I wanted to post a couple of my MRI shots from last week.
  • I've been getting better. Not sure if this is due to my body generally healing itself or due to exercises. I've been swimming in the morning and doing stretches during the day. Have not got to do regular back exercises yet. Time after work in the evening is filled with kids.

    Sciatica in left leg is mostly gone but lower back pain is still here. There is sometimes sharp pain in my right buttock, similar to tooth pain, and right leg hamstring and calf are tight. But thanks God I have no sharp sciatica pain. I still can't sit for more than 15 minutes, but it's manageable.

    My doctor said that sitting puts 30 - 50% more pressure on lower back than standing - due to pelvis' improper positioning. He recommended I spend as much time standing up as I can. that is to reduce disk pressure during the day. So last weekend I designed and made a stand for my desk that allows me standing while I work on my computer. It's like a two level chair, one for my keyboard, another for my screen. Let's see if this works for me and if I can stand for hours. definitely something I have not done before!
  • I have been spending probably 90% of my day standing or walking and it feels great. at first it was a bit awkward standing and working on my PC at my office but in a day or two I got used to my new work station and position and have no desire to sit down. Standing during work feels great.

    I've been swimming daily in the mornings but have not been able to establish an exercise routine due to lack of time. This is something I really need to do every day to strengthen my lower back and abdomen muscles.

    Peace to all
  • Hi Beeps and everyone else!

    I had a ruptured L5-S1 disc in 2007 which was very severe and caused compression of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic pain was intolerable for about 2 months. I also had foot drop and generalised muscle weakness in the left leg as well as back pain.

    MRI showed a massive disc herniation with severe compression of the sciatic nerve. Surgery was strongly recommended. Due to issues I won't get into here, I did not have surgery.

    I lost 2 stone in weight and changed my working methods - standing instead of sitting etc, similar to you.

    Now? I'm still in pain, esp the sciatica, BUT it is controllable and I have good function in my leg. Not 100%, but almost. I can walk, run, cycle, swim etc.

    I wish you good luck. Listen to your medical care professionals.



  • Another hi!
    Being also a non native i just wanted to add that Beep is doing really great adjustements to his life. Keep on swimming and standing at work and u should be fine. As long as u don't have neurologival deficit it's okay. Unfortunatelly for me i had to have the surgery after i exhausted every conservative treatement outhere. I am doing a lot better although with somz issues still. Good luck and keep up the good work.

  • I am a 49 year old male who suffred serve sciatica from a herniation of the L5/S1 disc.

    I was an active runner for years but the pounding finally caught up to my back. I herniated my back in February 2011. I tried therapy, epidural shots and chiro for 4 months with minimal relief. Could only walk 50 -100 years and would be in intense pain and numbness down my right leg.

    I decided on the microdisc surgery. I had the surgery on June 24. Today June 27, I was able to walk one mile without sciatica. Soreness and pain right after the surgery was about a level 4/5. Two days later, my back pain from the incision is a level 3 that is better with walking. You will feel better on your feet/ Sitting more than 15 minutes aat a time is tough. I hoping to be able drive and get off pain meds by day 5/6 and back to work in two weeks.

    Like most, I didn't want to have the surgery but the quality of life had suffered a great deal. My surgeon told me the herniation was a severe impingement on the s1 nerve and would never had gotten better through rehab and therapy alone. Don't wait too long or the benefits of the surgery are not as great.

    I hope this helpd to those who are worried about the microdisc surgery. It was the right decision for me.

    I can appreciate the pain you back can cause you. I wish everyone the best with your back.
  • Back to work in two weeks wow that does not sounds right! With microdicectomy u should be back to work and normal activities in 6 months NOT before. Espeacially if ur work is sedantery Are u kidding me! Please check this with ur NS.
    Microdicectomy is not a minimally invasive procedure! It's classic surgery and it does not allow u to continue work or driving in two weeks...
  • hello everyone!

    Just wanted to share my little discovery. My doc told me that with my condition (l5/s1) it is best to sleep/lay down with legs up position. I tried pillows but didn't work. Then I bought a simple bean bag and found it to be perfect for holding legs up comfortably.
  • You can also buy a bolster through physiotherapy supply companies; I got one to have at home, and it is wonderful. When my low back pain is really severe, it makes a world of difference when laying on my back.

    Here in Canada, you can sometimes get a doctor's prescription and have it covered under extended health benefits, so it's worth a try.

    Also, I was taking a good magnesium/malic acid supplement, which was extremely helpful with the muscle pain. If you take other meds, you have to be sure you CAN take the supplement, and confirm WHEN you can take it (some meds can't be taken at the same time as calcium, magnesium, etc.)

  • I also wanted to share a recovery story as it took me a long time to figure out how to help my condition and hope this will help others.

    I had an L5-S1 bulged disc with pretty severe sciatica down the right leg as a result. I tried everything from chiropractors to physical therapy to the mckenzie program to pilates and nothing seemed to provide a lot of relief and some made it worse.

    Like a lot of you, I got a standing desk at work and it helped immensely. However, I didn't truly feel a big change until I started doing physical therapy in a pool. It enabled me to work out with little resistance and do traction by using a floatation belt + weights on my ankles. Two times a week for 2-3 months did the trick and now I'll be doing it as my main form of exercise moving forward.

    I'd suggest trying it before opting for surgery as everybody I met at the center seemed to find relief from similar symptoms. I'm a bit surprised it wasn't the first thing recommended by my doctors.

  • Hi All, just a quick update on my condition and recovery from L5-S1 herniation.

    I have been swimming almost daily and believe that the swimming is helping me with overall strengthening of my lower/mid/leg muscles. swimming is a really great exercise for overall body conditioning, since I can't run/play tennis/do other sports (yet).

    I still stand at my office the whole day. It feels great and works great for me. Learned to get myself out on a short walks around the office every 15 mins or so.

    My sciatica is getting milder. Don't know if it is due to all the "soft" exercise or not, but I feel like I am on the right track.

    What else helped me: meditation/prayer during the rough times when I felt like things were going south. Meditation really calms your mind, especially before bed time, so you can sleep better.

    No drugs taken, and hopefully won't need do.

    Wishing everyone on this forum a Healthy New 2012 Year!
  • Hello Beeps

    I also have sciatica in both legs and from where the pain is my physio suspects L5/S1 herniation - I've just read through all your posts and feel inspired to keep going!

    I have been in pain for 5 months - started as an ache in my lower back and in Decmeber I couldn't work - had the whole month off. I have improved a bit but find sitting very difficult. Like you my sciatica is mainly in my left leg but sometimes in both. My left foot is more affected.

    Anyway I have my MRI today! So I will soon know what's going on.

    Reading your posts has encouraged me to look at other options before surgery. I don't like taking drugs and find the mental side affects worse than going through the pain.

    I have noticed I'm feeling depressed lately - not being able to just get on with normal life, after a few months is having an affect on me. I also meditate, but have done little since the pain - you have reminded me to keep doing it!

    I also work in an office so might look into a way of standing while I work - my company are supportive and let me work from home if I need to - but I would rather be able to do a full day in the office. Like I said I just want to get back to normal.

    thanks for the advice and keep posting - it's so encouraging to hear of someone improving over several months :)
  • Now I have to post my update too. I can honestly say that I am doing fantastically well after the operation. It's been 7 months now, I 've got zero pain only slight skin discomfort in the area when the pain used to be. I also have sometimes tingling in my foot but that's about it. I have no regrets about the surgery it had to be done, and done it was. I feel awesome! I have changed my life though. I exercise and walk about 45 min every couple of days. I found work as a teacher so I don't have to be sitting down all the time although I can sit for as long as I want to without pain. So everyone who has to have the surgery out there good luck, and fingers crossed it's successful as mine was.
  • rowanberry: I hope your MRI results showed an improvement in your condition.
    Pls don't discount drugs completely, especially anti inflammatory drugs as they can help to reduce the inflammation. Anti-inflammatory drugs may not reduce your pain immediately, but they will certainly reduce your inflammation and lower its dangerous side-effects and consequences. I am glad I took some in the acute stages myself. You should try to keep the inflammation down as much as you can, either through drugs, cold compresses or other means.
    Hope you keep up your "at-move" routine. try moving as much as you can, walking mainly. Minimize your sitting during the day. and, if you can, get into swimming. I hope you can do it, will certainly pray for your recovery.
  • Hello everyone,

    I just wanted to recommend this new book by Dr. David Agus (Steve Job's doctor) called "end of illness". It is eye opening. I'd highly recommend it to anyone struggling with general health issues. It will change the way you look at your health and health solution.
    you can check it out on amazon, google or ibooks. Cheers!
  • aisghabháilaaisghabháil Posts: 1
    edited 09/20/2012 - 5:37 AM
    Hi Beeps

    I found this forum with a google search. " Sciatica Recovery stories" and this one poped up.

    Was really interested to hear someone's story of refusing surgery.

    I have had back pain for 1 year now, and have developed very bad sciatic pain in my right leg in the the last 6 months.
    The pain is so bad that I am now restricted to standing for no more than 5 mins otherwise I get searing pins and needles and numbness.
    I've been to chiropractors, physiotherapist, sports injury massage therapist and have very little relief to pain.
    Over the last 4 weeks I've become very depressed. Having very little sleep and constant pain has really started to get me down. I'm in for my first scan next week and hopefully will be able to get some more options towards recovery.

    It was great boost for me to read a story of someone who took there recovery into there own hands. And to hear also other stories of people who had a successful surgeries and other treatments.

    Thanks for telling your story.

  • Hello all. I'm new here. Had emergency spinal surgery June 21st, 2012 L5-S1 Total rupture 75% disk left broken in 4 pieces...was one hour away from total permanent paralysis according to Neuro Surgeon. He stated that a fragment of my ruptured disk was pressing/sawing through my spinal cord. I can walk. It is, I am a miracle story. Still working on full recovery and still in severe intermittent pain. Researching others stories and pain remedies and praying for all for full and complete recovery in Jesus' Precious Name Above All Names.
  • Hi beeps I was wondering how you are doing these days? It's been a while since you posted and I'm curios to know as to whether you self healing techniques worked. I am dealing with similar pain and was also told by one surgeon that I need surgery right away but another told me to try everything else first. So now I'm on my second epidural with no much relief. I am thinking of maybe dropping a few pounds?? Anyway let us know how you're doing.
  • chezdanielcchezdaniel Posts: 2
    edited 05/01/2013 - 1:38 AM
    I find it interesting reading this forum with many people staring very similar stories of sciatic pain. My story has been similar, having lower back pain from an injury in my late teens - I just kept on living an active life, the pain would come and go, I wouldn't pay too much attention - now in my late 30's - my life style caught up with me. I have never felt this much pain in my life. I have have several hospital visits,via ambulance from the intense chronic pain where I couldn't move but felt like my legs where getting twisted off. At the hospital they would just give me morphine and other heavy pain medications. Once I felt (what they thought) normal, I would be sent home.
    I had been seeing a chiropractor which I liked and trusted, but had to stop as the procedures were beginning to freak me out. I went from living a busy and fairly social & active life to being stuck at home on the couch swallowing heavy inflammatory & pain medication. I was constantly in foul moods with very little ability to care about anyone else but my constant pain. I refused to go out as I didn't want to bring attention to my resembling the "Hunch back of Notredam" I have Surgery booked, but there has been quite a long waiting list to get in. I really didn't know how I was going to get through the six month plus (the debilitating intensity of my pain got really bad around mid January)
    So many people I knew were trying to get me to see this person, that specialist, their guy and friends doctor. I was way too depressed and probably too high from the medication to figure out how to navigate the next steps. I finally agreed to see an acupuncturist...... Best decision ever!! after just one treatment, I could walk 50% better and actually stand up straight. I've now been seeing the acupuncturist twice a week for a month, plus taking his weird tasting Chinese herbal medicines. I am most ecstatic about my mobility. I'm not 100% there is still constant nerve pain. But for now I can manage. and I've given up the pain killers. I'm still booked for surgery. Which will be minor - (I don't want to go through this ever again!) I am back doing exercising (lightly) - Once I am 100% pain-free I will be modifying my exercising to Pilates, Yoga, light and correct use of weights and swimming. I highly recommend Chinese medicine - its been around for 1000's of years. I wish everyone pain free lives x CD
  • Just wondering when is the surgery ? Also do you think you can probably skip it for now since the acupuncture seemed to help out some? I have done acupuncture myself but with no relief. What kind of injury do you have? Good luck with the surgery if you're still going for it!!
  • Last update was jan 31 2012?
    I have the same problems but I found out and stretch routing that takeaway the pain right a way BUY only for a 10 minutes as soon I stand up or sit down the pain start in both legs!!!
    Bless n Bless
  • I've been reading all of your post this morning, and thank you for sharing your experience!
    I have been battling with lower back pain for over 11 years now. But this time, is my worst back + sciatic pain ever!
    For the first 2 weeks, the acute pain was in the middle lower back but now it has traveled down to my left glute and calf (near my ankle).

    I feel comfort while sitting and feel pain while standing or walking (around the left glute and calf). I'm visiting my physiotherapist regularly and boy they gave me a painful sports massage!

    The pain has just even got worse as of today, and will try swimming. hope it will help!

    Get well soon everyone!
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