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Sciatica for over 6 months

AnonymousUserAAnonymousUser Posts: 49,671

I am 46 years old and began having sciatica pain in January (it was thought to be a symptom caused by something I ended up needing abdominal surgery for). After recovering from major abdominal surgery in March, I still have the sciatica. I don't need to tell anyone how painful it is; if you have/had it, you already know. There are periods during the day (maybe an hour to a few hours) where I am almost pain-free, but evenings are the worst. I have trouble getting into bed, just barely moving my leg or the slightest bending or turning of my body causes excruciating pain. I have a great deal of pain in the left buttock and hip, side of left knee and down the side of the leg. (Incidentally, I have no insurance and am already in debt from the surgery. During my last post-op exam, I told the surgeon I still had sciatica and she said I would need to see another doctor and get an MRI to find out what's causing it. But I have no way to do this.)
My sister, who has insurance, had some pain in one leg and has been to a spine specialist. She's had Xrays and an MRI and is now in physical therapy. Her problem is caused by a muscle imbalance/muscle weakness and she is having to do stretching exercises. She does not have sciatica; they said it's some kind of muscle strain or something. She insists that I just need to do the stretching exercises she is doing and it would help. I have tried to stretch but any bending or moving to stretch causes tremendous pain in the left buttock/hip area. I tried doing core strengthening exercises on a stability ball and it made my sciatica worse. I'm still baffled by what I've read saying it responds to exercise, because short walks do not seem to help my problem. If I walk during the day, by the time I go to bed at night I'm almost crippled.
I have read that without knowing what is causing the sciatica, it's probably not a good idea to attempt stretching exercises because you could make the problem worse. (I tried telling my sister this, but she disagreed.) I think eventually, if/when I get health insurance and can see a specialist and have access to physical therapy, maybe a healthcare professional can guide me as to the proper course of treatment and show me how to move without causing pain.
Just wondering what your take is on this. Do I stretch through the pain, as my sister suggests? (How do you strengthen weak muscles if you're unable to move without causing more pain?) Is it possible to make things worse, or will it eventually get better because of the exercise?
I'm getting so desperate that I would do almost anything at this point for life to return to normal.


  • Hi Sanji,

    I am sorry to hear about your pain, I can almost identify with you. I am at 7 weeks post-ops from a lumbar fusion, I know what you are experiencing can be very debilitating. Have you tried therapy? that might help, also you can apply ice pack on your back at least 3 times a day. Stretching is good but it sounds like you have a disc herniation, my advise to you is to go see a Spine Doctor.

  • :) perhaps you need to bite the bullet and pay for a doctor's visit. an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon can give you some guidelines. i have taken it upon myself to treat my severe sciatica with stretching, walking and the medication Lyrica. if nothing else the medication might help you! i also use the exercise ball to work my core. one doctor's visit cannot give you a diagnosis but you can get some guidelines and a prescription. good luck! Jenny ps. if your sister is not a professional i would defer to one and tell her so.
  • I bought a stability ball trying to strengthen my core muscles. I know since my abdominal surgery in March I need to strengthen the muscles the doctors cut into. However, I could feel some pain while doing even the most basic exercises and within a few days it felt worse. Well-meaning friends keep sending me these emails about stretches designed to help sciatica, but I think those are for people who just began having symptoms-- or perhaps to prevent recurrences. At this point in time, I'm reluctant to go to a doctor (I can't afford it, anyway; my last visit was $70). If sciatica was listed on my records (or worse, the cause of the sciatica, should we be able to discover it) then whatever treatment I seek later on, when I have insurance, won't be covered.
    I was really hoping I'd be able to self-cure the problem without needing medical intervention. I had mild sciatica about 12 years ago; just resting, stretching and icing for a few days made it go away and I was able to resume running.
    As for my sister, I can't tell her anything. She knows it all!
    As for telling
  • I just realized, based on what my sister has described, that she has piriformis syndrome (if that's spelled right). I read the symptoms on the Mayo Clinic's website, and the pain doesn't extend below the knee; it affects the back of the thigh. In my case, I have pain to the left of the knee and down the side of my leg. Occasionally, the foot will go numb. I've told her this, but she doesn't seem to recognize that we have 2 entirely different conditions and what works for her (which is being done with guidance by a physical therapist, going with what the doctor diagnosed as the cause of her pain-- muscle weakness and imbalance) won't necessarily work for me and could even make my pain worse.
  • I have sciatica it's getting much better though with treatment. The symptoms I have had are pain in butt, hamstring, left of calf, back of calf and foot pain mostly left side of the foot. My foot goes numb on the left side when walking or standing. It used to be numb constantly.

    I agree though doing stretching on your own without knowing what is wrong could cause more problems. If it is a herniated disc and if the herniation is large it could break off and fragment causing more pressure on the nerve.

    I am doing stretching now which has helped my sciatica but my surgeon did not send me to physical therapy until I was doing quite a bit better and was able to handle it. If it hurts really bad to stretch it's not going to help you in my opinion it's just going to irritate the sciatic nerve.

    It would be good if you could get a MRI so you can know what's going on in there. Those things are really expensive though that's for sure.

    Oh and ignore your sisters advise. It's really not safe for people to be giving out medical advise unless they are a doctor.

  • Out of desperation, I am going to resume an exercise routine. I think at least some walking. Walking causes pain, but everything I read says inactivity does sciatica no good. This is still unusual to me; as a former runner, I am used to not working out through pain. Runners are never supposed to keep running when they feel pain; it's the body's way of telling you to stop. (And if you keep running through the pain, you can throw off your stride and end up injuring other body parts.)
    I am also going to resume the stability ball stretches and workouts for abs and back. I figure, it hurts almost all the time anyway, whether I exercise or not. What harm can it do?

  • Hi Senji,

    I understand the exercise routine all to well. I've been trying to walk even though afterwards I hurt, but like you I know that no exercise is not good. at least walking you are trying to strengthen your legs,abs, and back. I also do light stretches trying to ease the pain.

    I had a discectomy in May, but the sciatica is still lingering. I'm trying to stay positive that it will get better if I don't give in.

    I hope you find relief soon, what do you take for your sciatic pain? I am only taking zanaflex-muscle relaxer and some motirin. I woke up at 4:30am hurting got up and took a zanaflex and it helped me go back to sleep.

    Best of Luck,

  • Cindy,

    I don't take anything for the pain. I took hydrocodone for a short time before and after my abdominal surgery. Then the doc who did my abdominal surgery put me on Elavil for nerve pain, and Naproxen. I tried for several weeks but it didn't respond to either. At this time, I don't take any medication. I'd like to go back on hydrocodone at least to help me sleep at night. But, for now, I'm just living with it as I have no access to healthcare at this time.
    Thanks for your response and good luck with your treatment.
  • Plenty!!!! Senji, please do not attempt to resume your exercise program without having the proper diagnosis. I did just like you. I started having severe sciatica that went from my R glute to my toes. The pain was beyond excruciating. But like you, I read on the internet on numerous sites that exercise was the best bet. So I did stretches for piriformis and whatever else I could find. Plus I walked an hour during the morning, an hour at lunch, and an hour after dinner. Or I should say I limped. I was seeing a chiro at the time. She was great but she just didn't know what kind of shape I was in. I steadily got worse. I ended up getting an MRI that revealed an 11 mm herniation. Prior to getting the MRI results my chiro had guessed I had a small to med disc bulge. Had I gotten it sooner I would not have done any of this. It turns out the manipulations and the over-zealous walking was compressing my spine and pushing out the disc material further into my sciatic nerve. I screwed myself over royally and made my condition much, much worse. Now I'm doing non-surgical decompression and am getting better. But I still have a long ways to go.

    I understand that you have no insurance. If you admitted yourself to the ER they would have to take you. Walk in, moan in pain, lay on the floor--whatever it takes. I'm sorry if this sounds disingenuinous to anyone. But I was without insurance too for two months due to my insurance company trying to rescind my policy. I called numerous hospitals and social service departments. The ER tactic was the general consensus from most of the.

    Please keep us posted in how you're doing.

  • My story is like Dryden's. I was told to walk and do stretching and core strengthening exercises. I struggled through the pain. I thought I was just being wimpy. I actually made myself worse. Please be careful with whatever physical activity you do until you are able to see a doctor. I know it's hard but if I had slowed down sooner I might have been able to avoid surgery. Take care.
  • Everyone's situation is different - your sister making medical evaluations is no better than you assuming that inactivity will make your situation worse. You are in a really tough predicament, you desparately need a professional medical evaluation and without health insurance in America, this can break the bank.

    There are some suggestions above, also I don't know if there are any clinics or if any of the medical facilities near you offer a sliding scale payment or "discount" for paying cash (as its far less hassle for them to get your payment in one shot versus a copay and then deal with the insurance company, some medical facilities will give patients a big discount for this).

    I don't have a magic solution but I will say this - you get ONE body in this lifetime. Lots of other things in your life can be replaced, but you need to take care of yourself and you will not find the exact diagnosis you need here. We all have similar situations on Spine Health, but all a little different all all needing different medical care (meds, phys therapy, surgery, etc).

    Best of luck to you.
  • Thanks to Aimless, Carr, and Dryden for your posts. Well, it turns out I haven't resumed my exercise routine. In the past two days, I have gone for short walks (10-15 minutes) with my dogs. No stability ball, no stretches. I actually felt good for a while yesterday afternoon, almost pain-free. Then evening hit and, as usual, I felt the typical night-time stabbing pain in the left buttock/hip and down the side of my leg.
    I've thought about going to the ER, but I'm reluctant to do so-- because that would require applying for indigent funding. I've already done that for diagnostic tests and hospitalization earlier this year when I had surgery for another condition. There's a limit to how much they'll pay out, and I'm already paying back large sums from the surgery. We have a sliding scale fee clinic in town. They are able to do X-rays now, but that is all. For MRI and any therapy, etc., they would send me to the hospital and specialists. I already did this for my previous condition. They did an evaluation and sent me on for diagnostic testing; then, after seeing the results, they sent me to a doctor who could recommend treatment (which ended up being surgery).
    I can't borrow money or go any further into debt.
    So, until the great job with the health insurance drops out of the sky, I wait and hope.
  • I may have to stop talking to my sister. I copied and pasted reponses from those of you who said exercising made your herniated disks worse or could cause harm to me. She said her spine doctor had her doing stretches and exercise before she got her MRI. I told her that he probably didn't suspect a herniated disk (she had had x-rays first, and her symptoms are different than mine; her pain doesn't go all the way down her leg into her foot).
    I was looking at the Spinalmedicine forums, where a Dr. Tran has many questions and answers posted. I saw several places where he advised against doing certain things if patients had herniated disks. I am worried about permanent damage. Left untreated, do you know if there can be irreversible nerve damage?
  • You have to be careful wich exercises you do. There are certain ones to help with certain problems. Do a little more research before jumping into stretches. Your Neuro needs to point out which ones are safe for you to do.

    Good luck and I hope things get better for you!

    God Bless-
  • Cathy,
    Thanks for the reply. I don't have a neuro, I am not undergoing any treatment. I have no insurance and can't afford MRI or therapy, etc. So, I'm doing self-treatment and waiting for it to go away on its own- or to be able to get insurance, whichever comes first.
  • It sounds like your sister cannot be wrong about anything. ;)
  • Ok, now I'm confused. I was doing research on herniated disks. Even though I don't have a diagnosis, I'm treating my problem as if it could be a herniated disk and trying not to make it worse. One site recommended walking, at least 10 minutes, 3 times a day. See link, below.

    Granted, I haven't been checked out by a doctor and have no idea what's causing my pain. I was walking for a while and even do so occasionally. Some days I take my dogs for a 10-15 minute walk. It hurts throughout the walk, and I'm usually in pretty bad shape at bedtime no matter what I do.
  • Senji - I don't know how else to tell you this - you must find a way to see a specialist and get this diagnosed. When I first herniated L5-S1, I got alot of relief from standing and walking. I ended up having a discectomy due to excessive pressure on the nerve and eventual numbness in my foot.

    I re-herniated the same disc last December, there is now almost no disc left at L5-S1. This time, walking and standing are painful, and I get great relief from sitting - exactly the opposite from the last herniation! Nerve pain is the same :(

    My point is - you may be further injuring yourself, you don't know what you are dealing with... there is a chance it can heal on its own, and I get why you are doing the trial and error approach, but please be careful.
  • As much as it's nice to do double duty, my chiro told me to not take the dogs as they can pull and tug you around at times and that can hurt you even more.

    Although I also find that walking hurts me more. My left leg is so weak that going for even a short walk causes the muscles in that leg to feel like I've doing a heavy duty work out. I'm going to try walking in a pool here soon as that might be easier on the joints. Chest deep with a kick board for balance.
  • Hi,
    I am so sorry for your trouble. I have deep feelings about your post. First, listening to your sister I don't understand. Your pain will dictate your action, trust me it can get bad enough that you will seek help. Please let your sister buy you some insurance, that is the best advice she can give or pay for your MRI/DR visit.
    Please don't mess around with your care and maybe make it a lot worse. Like the gentleman said just go to the ER in pain they will help you. Money and bills are forever your ability to use your legs may not be.
    My prayers are with you. As everyone who takes the time to answer your post knows how it really can be.
  • Thanks to everyone for their comments, help, and positive thoughts.

    Now, some good news. I found out that my state has a "State Coverage Insurance" program. I picked up an application at Income Support and am applying. It's available for self-employed or for those who aren't getting insurance through an employer, or unemployed. They have a sliding fee scale, so low income and unemployed may not even have premiums.
    Hopefully, I'll be able to get a diagnosis and treatment.

    Had an odd thing happen last night, when I first settled into bed. As I turned, I stretched my lower back (not really meaning to, but it happened) and felt a slight pop in the center just above my tailbone. It hurt pretty bad. The rest of the night, if I moved in any way, it caused pain there. This morning I had more pain in the low center of my back, almost didn't notice any sciatic pain. Now, later in the day, I am feeling the same pain in the side of my leg. For the past several days, I have begun having some minor pain in the lower right leg. Possibly it's from adjusting my gait to accommodate pain, etc.

    Once I get coverage (it takes 45 days to become eligible, so I still have to wait) I will post an update as to what I find out.
  • That's great news about the insurance Sanji! Good luck with the doc and please keep us updated.
  • And, my sister still fights with me over this! I mentioned that I'm heating my back off and on almost all day lately, and she said she's having to use heat before stretching, etc. I said I'm not stretching because it hurts and until I know the cause of my pain, I'm not going to risk injuring myself further. Then she said, "Well, I hurt after going to physical therapy but they still make me do those exercises." ugh! Some people just will not listen and don't have any compassion whatsoever.
    I feel I've gotten more support and sympathetic "listeners" from strangers on this site than I have my own family. (My mom told me that eventually my sciatic would go away on its own.)
  • Most likely your lower back is inflamed. Inflammation equals pain. Anti inflammatories and an ice pack applied to the low back will help. My doc recommends 10 min on every 30 minutes. Your sister will never understand unless this same thing happens to her. Please do not waste your breath with her. And your mom is correct. 90% of cases resolve on their own in 6 weeks. But since you've had it for 6 months now, it probably will not without some type of medical intervention. Hopefully this can be treated with conservative methods.

  • Well, I'm back. I have now suffered with daily pain for over 10 months. I attempted to apply for the state insurance where I live, but they have stopped accepting new applicants because the demand has been overwhelming and they're experiencing a shortage of funds.
    I read somewhere (on this site, I think) that even with a herniated disc you should exercise. One expert said aim for walking 3 miles per day. I have been walking for around 15-20 minutes every evening, but it does not help relieve the pain. I can't say it makes it worse, but the condition has not improved.
    I recently went to a clinic for uninsured patients. They did X-rays, then 2 days later told me I had "degenerative disc disease and arthritis." (Funny, my sister's diagnosis was the same, even though originally she told me it was pirifomis syndrome. She said they didn't order an MRI for her--and she has insurance--and she went through several sessions of physical therapy which she said did not good. She belongs to a gym and manages to work out several times a week, so I don't think her pain level is very high.) After viewing my Xrays, they are recommending an MRI, which can be covered by indigent funding. However, indigent funding does not pay doctors fees, so I won't be able to get any treatment for whatever is causing this problem-- at least not without my medical bills climbing ever higher. (I'm still paying for a surgery I had earlier this year.)
    I am not sure if I should risk getting an MRI at this time, however. If I have a diagnosis or at least some description of the MRI findings on my medical records, that could prevent me from getting coverage later on (or at least from getting coverage for the identified condition). I'm really torn about this. Part of me wants to have the MRI just to find out what has been making me hurt for almost a year.
    I've been growing more and more depressed and frustrated.
  • Can you get medicare? Is it you're without a family Dr? I take Lyrica for sciatica and strong meds. Being in such pain as you have been for so long must be difficult. I'm not familiar with USA and insurance as I don't live there. I would pay for a Doctor's visit to get meds or some medical advice. Keep us posted on your progress. Ok? Take care. Charry
    DDD of lumbar spine with sciatica to left hip,leg and foot. L4-L5 posterior disc bulge with prominent facets, L5-S1 prominent facets with a posterior osteocartilaginous bar. Mild bilateral foraminal narrowing c-spine c4-c7 RN
  • I'm uninsured but don't qualify for Medicare. Most Americans do not. When I began having pain at the end of last year, I just ignored it because I figured I'd never afford treatment; I was also worried about being diagnosed with something that could prevent me from getting health insurance later. (I ended up having major abdominal surgery in March; the surgeon then believed my sciatica was caused by multiple fibroids and an enlarged uterus.) This is life in the US, for the uninsured.
    I'm leaning towards having the MRI just to find out if it's a serious enough condition that shouldn't be ignored (not sure what I can do if it is). I'm still looking for a job that offers health insurance. I'm employed but considered part-time staff, so I don't qualify for benefits. The last time I had insurance, I paid over $300 a month and my deductible was $5,000. I had to drop the policy because I couldn't afford the payments.
  • Sorry, that should have read that I don't qualify for Medicaid. I'm in my 40s, obviously I don't qualify for Medicare.
  • Yes, I can see why so many Canadians keep sneaking over the border for our health care (snicker).

    Welcome to the USA "healthcare system". I have funds available to cover the MRI to find out what's wrong (indigent funding) but I asked about physical therapy and they said no. Last time I had physical therapy without health insurance, it cost over $1,000 (and that was 20 years ago). I'm still paying for a surgery I had earlier this year, so I can't afford any more medical bills.
    I'm now ineligible for private insurance--not that I can afford it, anyway-- because of my "pre-existing" condition (DDD and arthritis is what the Xrays showed).
    When I finally get a job with a group plan, I'll have to wait 6 months before I can use the insurance to treat my pre-existing condition, so that means the earliest I can seek help will be next July, if I'm lucky. (January is the soonest there might be a job opening, with benefits, in my area). Bubblegum is right; copay and
    deductibles are so high that many Americans with health insurance still go bankrupt.
    My quality of life has truly declined. I am in pain every minute of the day, for almost 11 months now. How do people live with these chronic conditions? I don't see how I can keep going like this for several more months.
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