Sorry for the long post, but I have a strange recovery story. I'll treat this as a sort of recovery record for myself and at the end, I have some questions for this wonderful support community.
I've been dealing with sciatica as a referred symptom of L5/S1 Herniated Disc for nearly 8months now. It started in May 2014. The incident I can recall was when I carried my daughter to her bed and placed her down. I felt a 'twitch' at that moment but had no pain at the time. The next morning, and for a few days, I could not bend over even slightly without pain in my lower back. Got a referral to from my physician to see a physio therapist who did some ultrasound, electro pads and traction along with some light manual therapy. after 2 sessions and 2 weeks, I was better and went back to sports, including softball, golf and badminton - yes probably too soon, in retrospect (but I had no idea what was coming)
2 months later (July 2014), I remember a moment while playing badminton when I twisted my torso after a hit. I felt a 'twitch' that didn't hurt again. uh-oh.... But this time, no pain until about a week later while on vacation, I started feeling slight annoying pain down my the back of my thigh. The pain increased over the next few days till the point where my right butt, hamstring, hips kept taking turns killing me on different days. I saw the doctor and this time got an xray and at the same time started seeing physio therapy for more of the same treatment but none of the treatments helped relieve pain (The xrays came up negative). The physio therapist thought that I had Piriformis Syndrom because while I was feeling pain in different areas, the most frequent pain and most troublesome was coming from my butt. So we switched to pirifomis-based therapies... still no help. By the way, none of the pain killers or anti-inflammatories helped one bit, so I stopped taking them.
In December 2014, I decided to see a private pelvic specialist who ran some tests and looked at my xrays from before. He noticed some narrowing in the lumbar region and pointed out that it may be a result of some disc trouble. His piriformis tests resulted in a diagnosis of 'present piriformis, but secondary to a herniated disc'. He recommended an MRI which I opted to do at HKD5,000. (The alternative was at a public/government hospital that was free but would have taken years for a time slot).
Couple of weeks later, the MRI results came back and it was confirmed that I had a gross 5mm disc herniation in L5/S1 (compression on nerve root) and 3mm in L4. The Orthopaedic who consulted with me at that time offered an Epidural Steroid injection. He told me to just carry on with my life, go play sports, do whatever I wanted after the injection because 'I won't know how I respond unless I lived normally' - this sounded dodgy. And his fees would have come out to about HKD50,000! I had nowhere near that coverage on my company's health coverage, so I elected to skip the shot and just continue with physio.
2 more months passed and no end was in sight for my lingering pain. I could not walk or stand for more than 10min before having to sit or lay down. It was literally a pain my ass. I did get full pain relief while squatting (PT told me that's because squatting opens up the hip canals and can shift the nerves away from the compression in that position). During PT, I felt traction gave me good temporary relief, but not nearly long enough. Pain would come back right when I left the PT office. I've also tried IMS and Dry Needling. We did lots of core strengthening exercises which I carry on daily from home.
Mid Feb 2015, I caught a cold.... If you've had sciatica or back pain, you know that sneezing or coughing drives a Level 10 shot of pain down your back and/or legs. Well, I was coughing all through the night one evening and must have blew out my disc even more because now I started feeling non-stop raidiating pain while laying down, in my lower back and a new symptom - numbness at the back of the thigh, calf, bottom of my foot.
Next morning, I decided to go to the emergency room at the Government hospital. They gave me a shot of NSAID injection (into my arm). I was admitted into the observation ward for 2 nights while they observed me and made me do PT at the hospital.
The miracle: On day 2 at the hospital, my sciatic just magically disappeared! No back pain, no sciatica. Straight leg raise was negative.. I could lift my leg 90degree whereas pre-miracle, I was only able to raise it about 30degrees. Since then I have been pain free except the numbness is still there, though not as bad. Back of thigh has about 30% sensitivity/feeling and baby toe still numb. But my big toe still has strength. Single calf raise was not possible at first, but now I could hold it for a short period..
So I wonder what the hell happened??? I read that the pain could have been fake - That our mind will get into a pattern and remember the pain (wake up, feel good -> lunch time feel worst -> 2pm feel crappy -> etc). My crazy theory is that I've been better for some time but my mind just remembered the pain patterns? And then the NSAID shot I got at the hospital sort of reset my mind. My recovery seems the same as what people describe after getting surgery - which is relief of pain but tingling/numbness remains. Don't get me wrong, I am so grateful to be able to get a full night's sleep now and to be able to go shopping with my wife and play with my daughter, but it's so weird I can't stop thinking about it.
And I also wonder when it is safe to begin sports again. I haven't gone to the gym or played any sports for nearly 8months now. I feel stronger and more stable, but for anyone who's made a full recovery, how do you really know when you've fully healed? I want to get back to softball. Not being able to play sports is highly depressing.