The Dread Pirate Sciatica

So yah, I walk with a limp. It’s hot. Sciatica has been coming and going my entire adult life. This particular episode has been going on for a few months.

I honestly believe I’ve had a problem with my lower back and leg forever but it’s not something I could articulate as a child. Imagine me at age eight after performing my solo tap routine to Taco’s Puttin’ On The Ritz, blue glitter top hat and all, “But mommy how else can I describe it to you? I feel disconnected from my right leg, as if it’s dead inside, and I can’t bend over and touch my toes in dance class like the other girls. Something must be wrong!”

Far from a debilitating disease, it barely added up to a bummer I could easily compensate around.

Fast forward to 2000. I’m 21, vegan, exercise like crazy, maintain rock solid abs despite copious alcohol intake, I’m generally happy. I just landed my dream job running crew for Blue Man Group; life is good. Then one day I wake up and I can’t move. Like I can’t get out of bed. My back doesn’t work which means my hips and my legs don’t work. I am broken.

Someone who has never experienced back problems may not fully understand the impact this has on a person. Try this: lay down in your bed as if sleeping then get yourself up to a standing position using only your arms.

It goes something like this: put your weight against the mattress with your shoulders and elbows. Use your hands to pick up your hips and roll them to the left side. Gasp from the pain. Prop your left elbow into the bed with that hand up in the air. Next push your right hand into the propped left hand to get to a seated position. Scream from the pain as you lift yourself off the bed with your hands. Now, unable to straighten your back to standing, walk hunched over with a limp and feel like you’ve aged 50 years over night.

Glorious.

I did what anybody would do. I went to the doctor and learned the word sciatica.

I never got a clear answer to what happened or why, but after a few weeks of pain and some muscle relaxers I was back to normal. One small change from before – I was now a person with a bad back.

The second time my back really went out was about five years later in Canada on a ski trip. Again I was in tip-top shape and again I don’t really know what happened except I slipped a tiny bit on some ice. It wasn’t a severe wrench by any standards but my body was rendered useless by it. I was in considerable pain for days, driving my then-boyfriend up a wall as we drove all around Vancouver looking for natural remedies to no avail.

I didn’t receive any relief until I got back home and saw an acupuncturist on a friend’s suggestion in lower Manhattan. I walked into the office hunched over. The doctor looked up from his desk and in a very thick Chinese accent asked “Sciaticaaa?” He healed me in one shot with a combination of acupuncture, electric stimulation and cupping. I walked out upright for the first time in more than a week and was back to normal in no time.

Unfortunately over time “normal” has worsened. Normal now is my back regularly aches for days surrounding my menstrual cycle, sometimes for up to a week, and I can longer sit comfortably on long car rides or at movies no matter what shape I’m in at the onset. Did I mention I’m only 32? I understand that we degenerate as we get older, but really, I’m only 32!

Acute Attack of the Dread Pirate Sciatica # 3 is ongoing as I write this. In July of this year my sister and I decided to take a leisurely stroll around a pleasant little lake with our dogs. At Hagg Lake in Forest Grove, OR there is only one path to take so we naturally left the map in the car and headed off for our walk with a couple bottles of water and some snacks. We basically paid that map no mind, especially the small type across the top that mentioned it was a 15 mile trek.

My back was already hurting because of PMS and for a while the walk was feeling good as it loosened everything up. We walked for miles. We stopped for snacks. We thought Oh wow, we still have a ways to go.

Somewhere around mile 8, I slipped on some gravel going up a small incline. It was not a big fall. I simply missed my footing, leaned over and landed on my knee. No scrape, no bruise. But something in my back seized and it hasn’t let up since.

I’ve been to a chiropractor, massage therapists, acupuncturists and tarot card readers. I’ve taken Aleve, prescription strength Naproxen, Tylenol with Codeine and Vicodin.

Two and a half months have passed. The pain that was originally centered in my back is now taking over my right leg. Pain originates in my glues, radiates through my hip and down my leg to my shin. It is always at a low hum of around level 4 (out of 10) and then randomly shoots up to 8 or 9 depending on my position.

The only time I feel physically normal is when I’m on Vicodin, which is totally fun if you’re headed out for a night on the dance floor, but clearly not an option for the long term.

I’m at the point where this has gone on so acutely for so long that people are starting to use the word surgery. That’s terrifying. For anyone wondering why I seem to be having a breeze not eating for more than a week already, it’s because not eating for a while is a hell of a lot easier for me than contemplating back surgery.

So here I am wrapping up Day 11. My sciatica plan is threefold: continued acupuncture thanks to the lovely souls at Working Class Acupuncture, a 40-day cleanse to allow my body time and energy to heal itself and inversion therapy. I read a lot of success stories from inversion therapy so I ordered a table online and happily watched my sister assemble it. I’ve been hanging upside down for a few minutes a day in the hopes of decompressing my discs thereby relieving pressure on the nerve.

I would absolutely love to hear from anyone out there who has experienced sciatica and what helped you heal. Thanks for reading!

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