Doc Says I Have Sciatica (And How I Became A Massage Therapist)

A few years ago I sustained a severe injury to my back while I was working in the restaurant industry. I was performing a task I did often, lifting/carrying a tray of glasses to the dishwasher. I turned and felt a pop in my low back, followed by a sharp pain. In the next couple of days my back ached constantly, felt stiff and I had a sharp pain in my low back every time I bent forward, even slightly. I thought maybe I just pulled it somehow and it would get better in a few days if I rested it a bit. It started to fade a little so I tried going back to the gym. This was a horrible idea but I like to work out and felt lazy after resting a few days. I continued like this, trying to “tough it out” for the next 2 years.

After 2 years my symptoms had only gotten worse-  I now had no sensation in my right-side low back, big toe and sole of my right foot. In addition to that, I had almost no movement in my back. I had intense unyielding pain in my low back, buttocks/hips and the outside of my right knee and right ankle. My muscles were very tense and wouldn’t relax. I had also lost the ability to sit for longer than a minute or two without intensifying my pain for the rest of the day. It was at this point I decided to see a doctor- clearly, “toughing it” wasn’t cutting it.

I went to a walk-in clinic and described my symptoms to the doctor. He asked me a few questions, felt the area a bit and ran a test or two and then told me I had “Sciatica”. He said it was a permanent condition, gave me some pain- killers and said if it was really bad I could pursue massage. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any other treatment options or direction or any explanation of what sciatica was or what it meant for my future.  When the painkillers didn’t address the pain, I ended up having to take time off work. I was devastated that I may never be pain- free again. I was also only sleeping for a few hours a night due to pain. It is important to note that time off work as well as lack of sleep and not having a full understanding of your condition are all factors known to effect your mental health with time, which can then end up prolonging recovery and increasing health care expenditures.

So, What Is Sciatica?

“Sciatica is the most common form of back pain, is caused by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in the human body”(1). While this is accurate, I would like to note that the term “sciatica” is more a description of symptoms and not a diagnosis. A diagnosis would let you know what was causing the sciatic symptoms, and very heavily depends on the health history of each individual. There are a number of conditions that may cause sciatica: “herniated/slipped disc, dislocated hip, osteoarthritis of the lumbosacral spine, pathological shortening of the lateral rotator muscles of the thigh (especially piriformis), pressure from the uterus during pregnancy, inflammation, irritation, or an improperly administered gluteal intramuscular injection. Even sitting on a wallet for a long period of time can compress the sciatic nerve and create irritation” (1).

At this point I was really not sure what to do. Massage would lessen my symptoms a little but wasn’t a permanent solution. Because my nerves were being affected I decided to check out a chiropractor. This was again helpful but I was still in a significant amount of pain most of the time. I was diligent about the home care I was given but my symptoms just didn’t seem to be improving. At this point I decided to try physiotherapy & acupuncture. This was the final key to making my recovery happen. I was, for the first time in 2 years, pain- free for 30 minutes after my first acupuncture appointment. The needles or process of acupuncture may be scary or off-putting to you, but I honestly didn’t even feel the needles. In my case, it seemed physiotherapy was what helped the most to getting me pain-free but I also know that combining it with massage and chiropractic made my recovery faster.

It took me about 8 weeks to feel “almost normal again”. During these 8 weeks, I saw a physiotherapist for rehabilitation (strengthening) and chiropractic and massage therapy for spinal joint and muscle release respectively. If you have insurance most of the costs will be covered for these treatments. Referral is not needed in most cases however, we suggest checking with your insurance policy provider beforehand.

This approach to care is why I ended up becoming a massage therapist myself and why I choose to work at a multi-disciplinary clinic such as Choice Health Centre, where the professionals work together with you synergistically to provide individualized solutions for your health care problems.

It is not uncommon to continue to have sciatica flare ups from time- to- time. You can see the same professionals for flare-ups. Flare ups can feel just as intense as if you are back to square one, but normally recover much faster- so try not to let them get you down. Also my recovery took a long time because I made mistakes: I waited a long time to get treatment, I only saw massage therapists at first, and tried to push through the pain when I shouldn’t have. If you are suffering from any of the symptoms I mentioned, I strongly recommend you get on your phone or computer and make an appointment with a physiotherapist, massage therapist or chiropractor as soon as possible- there are no prizes for suffering.

References:

  1. Pg 458e, Chapter 13, Principles of anatomy & physiology, 14th edition, copyright 2014

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