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Severe sciatic pain for 2 months..first MRI tomorrow

Hey everybody! I've been dealing with really painful sciatica for about 2 months and I would love to hear about similar situations and how they turned out. It would be great to hear some encouraging news. I have an MRI scheduled for tomorrow which I strongly suspect is going to reveal a disc herniation.

Here is my story:

I'm a 25 year old male in OK shape, and I started lifting weights a couple years ago. I'm sure I have terrible form. Never had any back problems prior, then in August 2013 I felt some tightness in my back after doing a set of squats that was relatively heavy for me. Woke up the next morning in excruciating pain. Couldn't get out of bed for days. The pain was only in my lower back, and when I made to the doctor they said it was probably just a low back strain. In a week or so I started to feel much better and in about two weeks I was back to normal (or about 95%). I continued to lift pretty much right away.

In December 2013, I was playing sports and felt tightness in my low back. It got bad really quickly, I was barely able to get myself home. Woke up the next morning and couldn't get out of bed. Felt exactly the same as when I hurt myself in August. Doctor said another low back strain. A few weeks rest and I felt a lot better.

February 2014 felt my back tighten up doing squats again. Not nearly as bad as the first two injuries. Doctor again said low back strain. They said I should rest, advice which I should have listened to.

End of February was lifting again. Felt my back tighten so I stopped. Over the course of the next week felt a little low back pain and numbness in my leg/calf/foot that would go away when I walked around. Then the first week of March I suddenly felt some really bad pain down my leg. I would rate it a 10/10 on the pain scale, at least for me.

Ever since then I have had almost no low back pain but really really bad sciatica in my left leg. For the first month I couldn't walk 50 feet before I had to stop and sit down. I basically stayed in my bed all day for a month. It was terrible. I was sore when I woke up and the only time I had a tolerable level of pain was when I was lying down. Sitting for a few minutes was painful, but standing/walking was the worst.

After the first 30 days, I moved into what I call "phase 2." This has been going on for about 30 days and is exactly where I am at right now. Walking still hurts but I can walk for longer distances than "phase 1" (for example, I can force myself to walk around a grocery store to buy a few things. I have a noticeable limp after the first few minutes of walking though, and I often have to "crouch" between aisles to gain strength to keep walking). Sitting still hurts but if I load up on ibuprofen I can make it for a few hours with only moderate pain (moderate pain meaning I can stay sitting down but can't concentrate on anything else but the pain for the most part). Without ibuprofen I can't stay seated for long at all. Lying down cause mild pain but it is tough to get up after extended rest. The first few steps after I get out of bed are the worst.

Probably the hardest thing about the last two months is the constant pain. I have pretty much become a shut in. Luckily I have a few people around me who encourage me. I start a new job in two months and I am terrified that I won't be able to perform all of my job requirements (or will need special assistance). This is my dream job but all new employees start off on probation :( .

So, here are some questions I have for anyone who has gone through something similar:

Is it a good sign than some of my symptoms are improving? i.e. I can walk for longer distances now, can sit for longer, etc. Pain is also slightly decreased. I no longer have to make weird grunting noises whenever I shift around. I can also drive myself around the block but getting in and out of the car is tough.

Is the fact that I am still experiencing fairly constant pain after 2 months a sign that surgery is likely? Or is it too soon to tell?

What are some ways you guys deal with the pain? I currently can't afford to go to a PT which sucks, and the only medication I'm taking is ibuprofen. Something stronger I think would help but I have been able to make do with advil.

Anyway thanks for reading this long post. I will update my diagnosis when I get it (if anyone is interested).



  • LizLiz Posts: 7,832

    Liz, Spine-health Moderator

    Spinal stenosis since 1995
    Lumber decompression surgery S1 L5-L3[1996]
    Cervical stenosis, so far avoided surgery
  • MaximummyMMaximummy Posts: 77
    edited 05/01/2014 - 8:31 PM
    Hi ..... Nobody on this forum can diagnose what your pain is caused by .... The MRI should give you some information, but I advise you are not in too much of a hurry to rush to surgery at the first hurdle and would at least seek a second opinion if you are offered surgery. It sounds as if it could be a disc, but it could be other things too. I, like many others you can read about here, took years to get to the operating theatre And whatever is diagnosed, at your age and level of fitness there are many conservative treatments, like targeted injections, specialised physiotherapy or hydrotherapy to go through before anybody should rush you into an operating theatre .... That should be your absolute last resort.
    It sounds to me ... No expert, I admit, that your exercise with lifting may be too much or that you are lifting wrongly sometimes?
    As for the improvement being a good sign ...... Yes, of course and going back to what you were doing must tell you something about your exercise program .... However, sciatica is one of those things that comes and goes but can be caused by several different things.
    I had episodes of 'sciatica' for years which would be either leg and walking was reasonable, but sitting was very difficult and pain at night was a real problem. Sometimes I felt I was dragging myself around ... But the episodes would burn themselves out over the course of a few months, sometimes longer. It took years of epidurals, facet joint injections, targeted nerve blocks under CT guidance before I finally had a two level lumbar fusion plus other things, including disc removal ten weeks ago today .... I am 58 and the basic problem was arthritis in all the joints which was pinching nerves in several places and discs wearing down and vertebrae out of alignment ...... I spent four years in almost daily pain avoiding surgery at all costs despite what the MRIs over many years showed.
    All I say is that back surgery is a very major operation with sometimes many months of recovery and you should be very wary and well-informed before you rush into it. It may be that with the right treatment and a modified exercise program you could avoid surgery ... Hope, for your sake, you can! Good luck and please post your MRI results so that people on here can support you .....
  • Hey man, I'm about your same age and have the same problem. It sounds like a herniated disc in the lumbar section of your back protruding onto your sciatic nerve. I have the same fears as my job is on the line since I can't and refuse to travel for work since it is so painful to sit. Concentrating is hard at work because the chronic pain.

    With that being said... the pain comes and goes... but it goes a lot faster if you have a strong anti-inflammatory injected and not ingested. That with a combination of oral steroids should probably be the start of your journey. I had that the first time I had this and it helped a lot.

    Other ways to deal with pain, I had about a 1-2 year span of no pain and almost full flexibility doing spinal decompression exercises. Keeping active is key and keeping active with good form is an even bigger key. Limit exercises that would compress your spine. So no more squatting and deadlifting... I know bummer.

    Surgery from what I'm told from the 15+ doctors I have seen over the past year should be the last resort. The progression seems to go as:
    - Hip injection with anti-inflammatories and oral steroids and physical therapy
    - Epidural injection with steroids, nerve blockers, anti-inflammatories and physical therapy
    - Surgery, most likely microlumbar discectomy

    They said if you're experiencing leg drop and loss of bladder control, probably should do surgery within the first few months of these signs, otherwise, if you're ago with loss of sensation in the leg, should be fine.

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