My Life with Sciatica

I can only sympathize with people who have this condition. I thought I'd join this site to see if my experiences can help anyone identify probable causes or ways to avoid sciatic attacks. Of course, I also joined to see if there is anything else that will help me.

I live in the UK. I'm 37 now and my story begins at the age of 21, when I had a car accident. The accident was near to my home returning to work one lunch time. I was up around 50 mph and suddenly a van decided to do a three-point-turn in front of me. I was young and inexperienced, too cocky a driver, and just didn't see it coming.

I stupidly wasn't wearing a seat-belt and afterwards locking my brakes hit the guy head-on. The policeman said judging by my skid marks on the road, I was probably doing 30 mph at point of impact. I saw that I couldn't stop in time and forced myself lower into the seat to try and avoid whiplash.

Well, I was rather messed up afterwards, although I did manage to drag myself out of my car. The guy driving the van turned out to be what’s known as a "pikey" who made his living out of ripping pensioners off trimming trees. You know the thing; telling customers it will cost £35 to do the job and then charging them £350 making out they didn’t hear the quote properly and demanding the money with menace. Well, anyhow. He ended up in prison a few years later for burglary, so time caught up with him.

I was dazed when I sat down in the grass in a layby. The dashboard in my VW Polo had collapsed and made a right mess of my legs. I had head butted and dragged the steering wheel to smash the windscreen. Other than a broken nose, blood peeing out of me in various places across my face, knees and legs and a seat-spring that went up into my right buttock, I felt miserable, slightly punch-drunk, but somehow just plain fed-up.

An ambulance turned up and took me to hospital. I couldn’t think straight, although I felt fine but still fed-up and annoyed with myself. Anyhow, after hospital x-rays, I returned home that night. What was on the TV? Whilst I had my legs elevated and toilet paper up each nostril, only the first in the series of comedian Alexi Sayle's safe driving program which included stories of idiot drivers like me and their bad experiences. Typical.

Anyhow, after 5 days off walking around like an idiot and barely walking, I returned to work. Getting upstairs at work was a complete laugh, I can tell you. No lifts and it took me near 15 minutes each time.

Typically I'd smoke two ciggies on the way up. I was a stubborn person, but I wanted to do things for myself. A visit to the doctor confirmed no broken bones with my x-ray and the doctor recommended nothing apart from pain killers that made me sick, so I tossed them away.

Don't visit what he called "bone-crunchers", which later I found were a rather rude word for chiropractors and/or osteopaths.

Well, I got better in time, but each time I did any heavy lifting at work, or if I worked underneath my car, I would take the next day easy as my back went solid.

I lived with this  for 6 years, until pain in my right knee got too much, so I went for an arthroscopy at my local hospital. The results were that there was nothing that could be done. I had split my cartilage approximately 70% across, and in time, it will break the lot, at which time my knee will most probably lock-up and to call again should that happen.

Ok I thought.  Anyhow, the pain continued and then my back started to get stiff in the lumbar region. A friend recommended that I see a chap who was a osteopath and had apparently got his mother up and out of a wheel-chair. I went to see the chap and he said that my right leg looked longer than the left.

I walked with a bent right knee when going upstairs and noted that my pelvis was crabbed and out of kilter. He injected a mistletoe derivative into my knee area, prescribed me a mistletoe drug to place under my tongue to dissolve and worked at my pelvis for a couple of months. 

Just 3 appointments and the pain in my knee disappeared, much to my surprise and delight. I was fine again, although lower back pain just bothered me occasionally.

My father  had said that I should stand up straighter and mentioned that I walked with a hunch. I always put this down to being six feet four inches and having to generally look down to talk to people.

However, the back pain was more manageable so I carried on with no further worry, thinking that I just got a bit of back pain and that was normal as I did a lot of lifting at work.

When I was 28, I was invited to Old Trafford to see my team Ipswich town play Manchester United. It was a full on meal, in the rather posh area there, whatever it's called, so I thought I'd better scrub-up a little out of politeness and bought a pair of rather ill-fitting shoes. The shoes pinched a fair bit, and after 3 hours of this, I was compensating for the pain in my toes on my right foot.

My father-in-law was good at crowd dodging that evening and sythed his way around 40k people real well, as he was used to it there. I, on the other hand, struggled to keep up.  The following day, my back was absolutely rigid as hell and the pain was awful.

Three of my family helped me into a car and off to the nearest chiropractor, who put me on a stand-up lounger thing and twisted the seats to force my back where nature had intended. A look in the mirror revealed that my legs were what seemed like a few inches to the right of my torso. I had pushed a disc out of kilter.

Well, this was the real start of pain, but not as we know it. For the next 18 months, I visited chiropractors on and off, getting really little in the way of long-term relief.  I was resigned to the fact that I would always walk like an idiot and suffer pain.

After much patience, and trying 4 chiropractors, who in the end pretty much said the same and recommended me to look into having spinal fusion, I visited my doctor and asked if I could have a MRI scan. When he had stopped laughing at me, saying you must be joking, do you know how much they cost and I will have to wait at least 6 months, his idea was to talk to other people with similar problems and see what they do. Honest. That’s what the chap said.

Anyhow, I don't call them doctors these days, as they are "GP's," and that is all they are. The fact they may have studied for four years means nothing. They just refer to experts and that is what GP's are for and that is all they do. Hmmm? That sounds rather bitter. I mean it though. I've gathered that the NHS are certainly not geared for long-term back problems. A cut, broken bone, heart transplant, no worries. 

Exeter wanted £850 for MRI scan. Plymouth £650 and in the end I found a place in Gloucester, which was part subsidized by charity. £200 was what they wanted, so I thought great.

I had the scan done and they get a back specialist to report on the findings. I took the results back to my doctor who said, "Oh yeah, you have got a problem haven't you".

The MRI scan revealed L2 and L4 had ruptured and flattened and T11 and T12, as well. The doctor booked me to see a back surgeon in Exeter and to arrange visits with a physiotherapist, as well. The physio was a nice chap, but didn't really help. Chatting about our common interest in vintage cars and hi-fi was more rewarding than the exercises he recommended.

The back surgeon assistant reported back and said that the main back chap there said there were three possibilities. I was to have spinal- fusion in the lower discs that will hinder movement significantly and could result in either no pain at all, the same pain or worse pain. I asked what the odds were for each result and he said 33 and third percent. Brilliant. I thought! I wasn’t playing those odds. There has to be another way.

I continued being a drugged up zombie for a good 4-5 months. I was taking 2.5 grams of Ibuprofen a day, drinking malt-whiskey like it was going out of fashion and being a pretty useless house-husband, as my now self-employed work had long since gone.

My wife was just plain fantastic. I often wonder where the hell I would have ended up if it wasn't for her. I spent the days laying on a mattress on the lounge floor, watching daytime TV, eating prepared meals by my wife and struggling to walk 6 feet at a time.

I had certainly felt suicidal at times, not being able to walk, pee or poo without real bad pain was becoming too much. I even beat my fists on the stone walls in the lounge until they bled, because somehow it helped the pain in my back. Weird huh?

Mind you, that was when I started to sober up from drink. Another drink helped.

Another friend recommended a chiropractor in Hampshire, although I was living now in Exeter. I trusted my mate and gave it a go, although I was skeptical. The chap I saw was slightly shocked by my appearance. I looked ill, miserable with now 4 extra stone on me, my eyes looked like red pee-holes in the snow.  I was unshaven for a week and my wife helped me in the surgery bless her. I decided to lay down on the floor, as it's long since I had sat in a chair or sofa with any comfort and I certainly couldn't sit on the chair in any comfort.

This doctor took 3 months to work on me. I visited twice a week for the first three weeks. I stayed at my mum and dads during appointments. He is one of those guys who won’t be beaten. He looked at my MRI scan and a combination of that and looking at the muscle tone in my buttocks concluded that the right buttock was fine, but there was little movement in my left.

He pulled me about somewhat at appointments and recommended I take much lower doses of Ibuprofen and combine it with paracetemol and get myself walking, however bent double I was. Walking to the end of the drive was a real struggle to start, but in time I could walk to the end of the lane.

He manipulated my lower back during appointments and massaged my left buttock. After 3 weeks, things really did start to improve. He reckoned that the splurge of disc had surrounded my sciatic nerve to my left leg with scar tissue .

As I got more and more upright and working on my T11 and T12, things really did improve to the point where I could walk a mile and had paid a visit every month for a year. Then the visits became every six weeks. My back was straight again, through the work this doctor did with T11 and T12.

My dad commented and said he was sorry for being rude. Bless him for calling me a hunch-back. Now, I see this chiropractor every 6 months, more out of fear that things could go bad if anything else.

The underlying sciatica still bothers me at times, but the interesting thing is, although I'm being sensible what I lift, it only kicks-off when I have an alcoholic drink.  It's odd but true.

The doctor doesn't fully understand it, but thinks it's due to the relaxing muscle effects that alcohol has, that perhaps disturbs the muscles to sit on my sciatic nerve running down my left leg. Now it's my stupid fault if I have a drink. The pain lasts 45 minutes only, and with a paracetemol, it disappears. If it really kicks-off with vengeance, the chiropractor taught my wife where to hit the glutinous minimus muscle and media muscle to relax the pain. That works a treat.

Sorry this has been a long-winded story, but I thought I would tell it like it is.  I can walk 6 miles now with no problem. I have an alcohol problem that I'm getting over. I've lost a stone now, which is great, and life is getting better and I'm working and feeling useful once more.

There always is a way.  I look back at those dark times and think what I could have done. I really wanted to just die at times. Anyone wants to get in touch,  please do. I would love to knock this sciatic pain after a drink on the head. I suppose I could quit drinking, but I do enjoy it. Just don't want to abuse it. I'll get there, I'm sure.

- Rob

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