Hey, all. It's been months since I've been back on this board.
I just thought I'd post an update that might make others new to sciatica feel a little more hope.
I herniated my L5-S1 six years ago. After a year of pain, I had a diskectomy. Was fine for two years, then it reherniated. Again, had a diskectomy. Again, fine for two years until May of 2009 when it herniated a third time.
At this point, the only surgical option -- I am told -- is spinal fusion, which I sure would like to avoid.
So basically for about the last year I've been doing all I can to heal on my own. My pain was very severe, radiating down my left leg to my foot. My toes were numb. I couldn't walk, drive, sit. Laying on my stomach offered some relief, but the pain has shifted around a lot over the year and now that in't a surefire way to alleviate the pain.
Anyway, currently I'm doing really well. During the day, my pain is about a 1 out of 10. At night things get more sore. After about 4 hours of laying down I get a lot of pain down to the foot. But last night I slept all night with very little pain for the first time in months. YAY!
Here is what has worked for me and my thoughts on all of this:
1) A disk is a ligament, and ligaments CAN heal with time and if we avoid reinjuring it. I think of it like asprained ankle... if I keep twisting the ankle I won't heal the ligaments. So I do everything I can to help from re-straining my disk. NEVER bend over at the waist. I pick things up from the floor by doing a lunge (taking care not to hurt my knees). I never lift anything heavy. I use a lumbar pillow EVERYWHERE (I take it to restaurants, the movies, etc.). I practice good posture. I take breaks from my desk job to walk around the office.
2) As far as exercise, what seems to feel good (meaning I don't get shooting pain down the leg) is swimming (very very slow and gentle) and walking. I do this as often as I can tolerate, and I go easy on myself if I'm having a flare up. Sometimes I just relax in the hot tub at the gym and stretch out my hamstrings.
3) Initially, the McKenzie Method exercises were amazing. I could actually get the disk BACK IN and have zero pain. Unfortunately, it would never stay in... I could feel it "pop" out and get searing pain down the leg. But I still feel these exercises are essential to anyone with sciatica. Working with a Physical Therapist certified in McKenzie was key.
4) Epidurals and spinal nerve root blocks have not helped me. I have a lot of scar tissue in there from the two surgeries. But they are worth a shot. Make sure you go to the best anesthesiologist you can find and get them done under flouroscopy (x-ray).
5) Icing feels good (I put the pack on my low back at the injury site), and warming creams/balms feel good on my leg.
6) Tramadol has helped me at night. I only need one pill when I feel the pain start up. I don't feel any negative side effects from it. I take no other pain meds, but I did just start Lyrica yesterday so maybe that will help, too.
7) Set backs happen. I've had several, and sometimes I have no idea what made the pain flare up. But usually within a week I'm back to where I was before the flare up, so I try not to panic.
Trying to stay patient, which is hard for me, is also key. It's been almost a year. Many people advised me to give up and get the fusion, but I'm doing really well. I hope that within another year or so I'll feel "normal." But having a little pain might serve as a reminder to BE CAREFUL about what I do/lift.
Good luck to everyone!